Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala stands trial

ISTANBUL – A well-known Turkish philanthropist was tried again in Istanbul on Friday, his third prosecution in four years in detention, ...


ISTANBUL – A well-known Turkish philanthropist was tried again in Istanbul on Friday, his third prosecution in four years in detention, in mass proceedings which have come to demonstrate the extreme efforts the Turkish government is prepared to take to keep its opponents behind bars.

In a hotly contested decision, prosecutors merged the cases against three groups of defendants, most of whom have already been acquitted of all charges, to establish a new case against 52 people. Philanthropist Osman Kavala is the best-known of the group, which includes football fans, environmentalists and artists who took part in the Taksim Square protests in 2013.

Mr Kavala made a video link statement from Silivri prison outside Istanbul, where he has been held for the most part in solitary confinement for four years. A panel of judges ordered his continued detention.

Accused of having tried to overthrow the government and undermine the Constitution by violence, all the defendants have long insisted on their innocence. The group also includes an American scholar, Henri Barkey, who is accused of having been in contact with Mr Kavala during a coup attempt in 2016. Mr Barkey has denied any involvement in the event.

Amnesty International called the merger of the cases “grotesque” and a “shocking disregard for fair trial procedures”.

For President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the protests in Taksim Square, a peaceful movement to prevent a park from being replaced by a shopping center, have become the first in a series of challenges for his leadership. The protests spread across the country and were a formative event for many young activists, before the police moved in and crushed them by force.

Yet Mr Erdogan often refers to the Gezi protests, as they are called in Turkey after the name of the park, as the first coup attempt against him. As part of this narrative, anti-corruption raids on his officials later that year, and the coup attempt against him in July 2016, were a continuation of violent foreign-inspired efforts to overthrow his government.

His relentless pursuit of those involved in the protests, and in particular of Mr. Kavala, so many years later, however mystified many since Mr. Kavala was not a political figure and his philanthropic work focused on reconstruction after the earthquake and cultural and artistic programs. for minorities.

Mr. Kavala was arrested in 2017, and accused and then acquitted of orchestrating and financing the protests by channeling money from billionaire investor George Soros to the protesters, as well as of participating in the 2016 coup attempt. After his acquittal , he was charged with espionage based on the same evidence. (Mr Erdogan accused Mr Soros of supporting Mr Kavala in funding “terrorists” during the protests.)

“This case almost seems like a vendetta at this point,” said Asli Aydintasbas, senior researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “What Osman went through is irrational and needlessly cruel.”

In his statement to the courtMr. Kavala said the twists and turns in his lawsuit were an indication of political interference aimed at extending his imprisonment. The aim, he said, was to keep alive the perception of his guilt and to criminalize Gezi’s protests as an act of rebellion, “although the evidence points to the contrary.”

“What is striking about the charges against me is not simply that they are not based on any evidence,” he said. “These are claims of a fantastic nature based on conspiracy theories beyond the bounds of reason.”

Other defendants raised similar complaints.

“I have been tried twice on the same indictment,” said one of them, Mucella Yapici, a leading member of the Taksim solidarity movement, which formed during the protests. “I was acquitted and my acquittal was approved. Twice. I reject this case, for reason, ethics and conscience ”, she declared in court in commented on a support group relayed on Twitter.

A three-judge panel rejected lawyers’ requests to separate the three cases, leading a group of lawyers to step down.

“Here, the match referee is trying to score a goal,” said Riza Kocal, lawyer for the defendants belonging to Carsi, a group of supporters of Besiktas football club in Istanbul. “The junction of cases is unfounded. Each case must be sent to its own court.

Even though Mr Erdogan, who faces increasingly serious economic and political challenges in his country, has sought to restore relations with the United States and Europe, he has repeatedly rejected calls for improvements. Turkey’s poor justice record or the release of prominent political prisoners like Mr. Kavala.

Turkey has ignored several decisions of the European Court of Human Rights calling for the release of detainees like Mr. Kavala. This prompted human rights organizations to urge the committee of ministers overseeing the tribunal to initiate infringement proceedings against Turkey, a rare action that could lead to its suspension from the court.

“Turkish courts and prosecutors have engaged in a series of tactics to circumvent the authority of the ECHR and the Council of Europe”, Aisling Reidy, senior legal adviser to Human Rights Watch, said in a statement at the time. “They have repeatedly issued bogus release orders, initiated multiple criminal proceedings on the same facts, repeatedly issued detention decisions while adopting unwarranted procedural decisions to extend detention. “

The Kavala affair has done a lot of damage to Turkey’s position in the United States Congress and across Europe, Ms. Aydintasbas said. “A rational actor would have let Kavala go long ago, knowing that this would buy goodwill from Turkey at the lowest point in its relations with the West.”

“I think at this point it’s more of a systemic obsession than anything else,” she added. “Everyone knows that Osman, as a member of civil society, is not a political threat to anyone. He didn’t organize Gezi or the coup and I doubt anyone would actually believe him.

The next hearing will be on November 26, the judge said.



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Newsrust - US Top News: Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala stands trial
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