A Turkish court is expected to reach a verdict in a hearing beginning on Friday in a long-running case against philanthropist Osman Kavala and 15 others that has strained Ankara’s ties with Western allies.
Kavala, 64, has been in jail for 4-1/2 years without a conviction and denies the charges he faces over the Gezi protests in 2013 that began as a small protest in an Istanbul park and grew into nationwide anti-government unrest, in which eight protesters and two police officers were killed.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and activists say the case is politically motivated and symbolic of a crackdown on dissent under President Tayyip Erdogan’s rule, claims the government denies.
Prosecutor Edip Sahiner has requested that Kavala and architect Mucella Yapici be convicted of attempting to overthrow the government through violence, which would carry a sentence of up to life in prison without parole.
He said that six others should be sentenced for aiding them, while asking that the case against the eight other defendants be separated after not attending the hearings while abroad.
Kavala and another defendant, whose case the prosecutor also said should be separated, are also accused of involvement in a coup attempt in 2016, which the ECHR said also lacks evidence.
Yapici has been acquitted twice of charges related to Gezi protests. All defendants deny the charges, saying the Gezi protests were protected by constitutional rights.
The ECHR called for Kavala’s release in late 2019 and ruled his detention serves to silence the philanthropist whose various civil society projects sought in recent decades to foster social change.
But Turkish courts have not freed Kavala and Ankara now faces being suspended from the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog, after “infringement proceedings” were launched due to his continued detention.
Embassies of Ankara’s Western allies, including the United States and Germany, also echoed the ECHR call for Kavala’s release last year, prompting threats by Erdogan to expel their ambassadors.
Kavala was acquitted in 2020 of charges related to the Gezi protests, but hours later another court ordered his arrest based on a charge of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order related to the coup attempt.
That court later ruled to release him on that charge but ordered his detention on an espionage charge in the same case, a move critics said was aimed at circumventing the ECHR ruling.
Kavala’s acquittal along with eight others in the Gezi trial was overturned last year and the case was combined with the other charges against him. [Reuters]