Turkish court set to deliver verdict against philanthropist


ISTANBUL (AP) — A Turkish court is expected to deliver its final verdict on Monday in the trial against civil rights activist and philanthropist Osman Kavala, accused of trying to overthrow the government amid mass protests that erupted in 2013.

Kavala, who has already spent more than four years in prison, faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.

Human rights groups say Kavala is being prosecuted with flimsy evidence. His case is closely watched as a test for the rule of law in Turkey.

Europe’s highest human rights body, the Council of Europe, has initiated “infringement” proceedings against Turkey for refusing to comply with judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, who called for Kavala’s release on the grounds that his rights had been violated.

Co-defendant Mucella Yapici – an activist and architect – also faces a life sentence, while six other defendants could face maximum sentences of 20 years in prison.

Kavala, 64, has been incarcerated in Silivri prison, on the outskirts of Istanbul, since his arrest on October 18, 2017, accused of financing the protests. The businessman and the other defendants have denied all charges against them.

In his final defense statements on Friday, Kavala once again denied the charges, insisting he had simply brought pastries and masks bought from a pharmacy to the protesters. He said claims he led the protests are “not plausible”.

“The fact of having spent 4 and a half years of my life in prison is an irreparable loss for me. My only consolation is the possibility that my experience will contribute to a better understanding of the serious problems of the justice system,” Kavala told the court via video link from Silivri.

Kavala was initially acquitted in February 2020 of charges that linked him to the 2013 protests at Gezi Park. As supporters awaited his release, Kavala was re-arrested on new charges linking him to a 2016 coup attempt. The acquittal was later overturned and the case was merged with the one relating to the attempted coup, which the Turkish government blames on the network of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.

In October, Kavala’s continued detention sparked a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and 10 Western countries, including the United States, France and Germany, after they called for his release on the fourth anniversary of his imprisonment.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Kavala of being the “Turkish branch” of US billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who the Turkish leader says has been behind insurgencies in many countries. He threatened to expel Western envoys for interfering in Turkey’s internal affairs.

The 2019 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights said Kavala’s imprisonment was aimed at silencing him and other human rights defenders and was not supported by evidence from an offense.

The lengthy infringement procedure by the Council of Europe, a 47-member bloc that defends human rights, could lead to the suspension of Turkey’s voting rights or membership in the organisation.

Erdogan dismissed the infringement procedure, saying Turkey would not “recognize those who do not recognize our courts”. Turkey argues that Kavala’s ongoing detention is linked to the 2016 coup attempt and not to previous charges that have been considered by the European Court.

Kavala is the founder of a non-profit organization, Anadolu Kultur, which focuses on cultural and artistic projects promoting peace and dialogue.

The 2013 protests began with opposition to plans to develop a shopping center on the site of the small park in central Istanbul and quickly turned into a nationwide protest against Erdogan, then prime minister.


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