Turkish activist gets life in prison — Analysis
Osman Kavala was convicted and charged with supporting protests in the failed coup attempt.
Turkish businessman-turned-rights-campaigner Osman Kavala was sentenced to life in prison without parole on Monday by an Istanbul court for allegedly funding protests in Gezi Park in 2013 and participating in the failed 2016 coup to overthrow Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.
Kavala was originally acquitted in 2020 of the 2013-related crime. But he was soon re-arrested, and was charged with 2016-related offences. Kavala was eventually charged with the involvement in both of these uprisings. His complicated timeline saw him repeatedly acquitted, re-accused and then charged again with the 2016 charges.
Kavala has maintained his innocence throughout his imprisonment, referring to the high-profile trial as a “judicial assassination” and insisting the charges are “Conspiracy theories that are based on ideological and political motives” in a speech before the court ahead of his sentencing. He had merely brought pastries and face masks to the protesters, he insisted, calling accusations of masterminding the protests “It is not possible.”
“I have one consolation: my experiences may help me to better understand some of the most serious issues facing our society. [Turkish] judiciary,” he told the court via video-link from Silivri prison, where he has been kept with only a brief interruption since 2017.
Kavala was sentenced by the three-judge panel in less than one hour. However, he was cleared of the espionage charges. Seven other lesser-known defendants were also sentencingd to 18 years for their part in the uprising aid charges. The sentencing reportedly attracted jeers from an audience packed with Western diplomats and human rights observers, for whom the Paris-born philanthropist’s case has become a cause célèbre.
Kavala’s 2017 arrest – at a time when he was known outside of Turkey primarily for promoting cultural reconciliation between the country and its longtime enemy, Armenia – surprised Turkey’s NATO allies and has become a diplomatic sticking point. His ongoing imprisonment led to the Council of Europe launching infringement procedures against Turkey for refusing to heed a 2019 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights demanding Kavala’s release due to a violation of his rights. The Council’s ruling could see Turkey stripped of its voting rights or even membership in the body.
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Erdogan has supported the long pre-trial detention Kavala, and other people linked to the 2016 coup effort and charged its European allies with meddling in Turkish affairs. Istanbul will not respect the Council of Europe if it does not respect Turkish courts, he declared in February, as the Council referred Kavala’s case to the ECHR. He has also accused Kavala of being the “Turkish branch” of billionaire currency speculator and international color-revolution promoter George Soros, whose organization packed up and left Turkey in 2018 as Kavala’s legal problems mounted.
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