Placeholder while article actions load
ISTANBUL — Osman Kavala, a Turkish philanthropist whose long imprisonment has been criticized by the United States and European countries, was sentenced Monday to life in prison on charges that included attempting to overthrow the government, in a case that human rights groups have dismissed as politically motivated.
The charges are related to a claim by prosecutors that Kavala orchestrated nationwide anti-government protests in 2013. Rights groups called it ridiculous, and Kavala denied the charges. Seven other defendants in the case were each sentenced to 18 years in prison.
All, including Kavala, have the right to appeal the sentences.
The prosecution of Kavala, who was not especially well known in Turkey before his arrest in late 2017, became a source of escalating tension with Ankara’s Western allies. Before the verdict Monday, Turkey was facing a possible rare suspension from the Council of Europe, a human rights body, for refusing to comply with rulings by the European Court of Human Rights demanding that Kavala, who was jailed for more than four years, be freed.
Last year, Turkey threatened to expel 10 foreign ambassadors, including the U.S. ambassador, after their embassies signed a letter calling for Kavala’s release, sparking a brief diplomatic crisis.
Turkey’s Erdogan declares 10 ambassadors ‘persona non grata.’
The court’s decision came as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government is trying to mend fences with NATO allies after years of strained relations, including by acting as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine and taking modest steps to stem the flow of military hardware to Moscow. The verdict also coincided with a visit by United Nations Secretary General António Guterres to Turkey as part of peacemaking efforts focused on Ukraine.
Kavala’s long legal ordeal had come to symbolize a tireless crackdown by Erdogan on opposition figures, dissidents and other perceived enemies in the years since an attempted coup against the government in 2016. But even among the masses swept up in the state’s dragnet, Kavala stood out for the extraordinary lengths Turkey exerted to keep him locked up, and for Erdogan’s apparent personal antagonism toward him.
Human Rights Watch said in a report earlier this year that Turkey was “using domestic court decisions to prolong Kavala’s detention and extend the life of baseless prosecutions. The courts have issued sham release orders, initiated multiple criminal proceedings against Kavala on the same facts, and separated and rejoined case files accusing him of bogus offenses.”
Expression Interrupted, an organization that tracks freedom of expression in Turkey, carried a 7,000-word article attempting to decipher the thicket of judicial actions against Kavala, calling it “a Kafkaesque legal spiral.”
Turkish officials have repeatedly called the judiciary independent and denied that court decisions are swayed by politics.
Kavala, 64, founded Anadolu Kultur, an organization that promotes diversity, culture and human rights. He has been in custody since November 2017.
An indictment cast him as an organizer and financier of nationwide protests against Erdogan’s government in 2013, which are viewed as the first real challenge to the Turkish leader’s rule. The demonstrations were sparked by a government plan to build an Ottoman-style barracks in Istanbul’s Gezi Park.
The indictment also accused Kavala of colluding with George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist, to incite the protests. Kavala and Soros have both vigorously denied the charges, and Kavala was previously acquitted by a Turkish court, which ordered his release.
Instead, prosecutors prepared new charges.
The final session in the latest case began Friday and continued Monday. In front of a packed gallery that included journalists, Western diplomats and opposition politicians, defendants and their lawyers were given a chance to offer a last statements. Those attending included Kavala’s wife, Ayse Bugra, a university professor.
In a lengthy address to the court via video link from prison Friday, Kavala laid out in detail his long journey through Turkey’s legal system, including arrests, dashed hopes for release, more arrests and what he said were signs all the while that politicians had their thumbs on the scales. The trial “has become completely deformed under political influence, and my prolonged detention into an act of deprivation of liberty by abuse of power,” he said.
A Turkish activist was acquitted after two years in jail. But prosecutors detained him again.
He added: “An attempt is being made to criminalize the Gezi Park events and to discredit the will of hundreds of thousands of citizens who participated in the events, using the fictional scenario featuring George Soros and me.” In fact, he added, the protests were “unplanned and unexpected.”
“After losing 4½ years of my life, the only aspect I can find solace in is the possibility that the process I experienced could contribute to confronting the crucial problems in the judiciary of Turkey,” he said.
In the shocked courtroom Monday, as defendants were arrested and their supporters collapsed in tears, some in the gallery started chanting, invoking the name of the square where the Gezi protests began: “Everywhere is Taksim,” they chanted, “Everywhere is resistance.”
Source by www.washingtonpost.com