Turkish government seeks life sentences for 2013 Gezi Park protesters

Chief public prosecutor charged 16 accused, many of whom are in pre-trial detention, for participation in the protests and the alleged coup attempt of 2016

February 21, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
A poster featuring jailed businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala during a press conference by his lawyers (Photo: AFP)

Turkey has sought life terms for 16 people, involved in the 2013 Gezi Park protests, over accusations of “attempting to overthrow the government,” Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported on Wednesday. The chief public prosecutor delivered the indictment in Istanbul’s 30th heavy penalty court. Besides “attempting to overthrow the government”, some are also accused of “damaging public property” and “damaging worshipping houses and cemeteries”.

The accused include philanthropist Osman Kavala, well-known actor Mehmet Ali Alabora, architect Mucella Yapici, city planner Tayfun Kahraman and lawyer Can Atalay. They were all reportedly members of the Taksim solidarity group, which helped coordinate the protests. Journalist Can Dundar, also one of the accused, is currently in exile in Germany, along with Mehmet Ali Alabora.

Kavala has been in custody of the Turkish authorities for over an year in the Silivri prison, outside Istanbul, and is accused of helping to fund and organize the 2013 anti-government protests. He has been in pre-trial custody since November 1, 2017.

Kavala is accused of involvement in the 2013 corruption scandal, which implicated many members of Erdogan’s inner circle. He is also linked to the failed coup attempt of July 2016. Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has described Kavala as the representative of Hungary-born American billionaire, George Soros. Erdogan, who was then the prime minister, had accused Kavala of “financing the terrorists”. Kavala served as the chairman of the Anadolu Kultür (Anatolian Culture) foundation, and is also the co-founder of the Iletisim publishing house.

Turkey blamed the US-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, for the coup attempt. Gulen has consistently denied these charges. Following the failed coup attempt, the government launched a ruthless crackdown, arresting hundreds of thousands of suspected coup participants and sympathizers, and forcing tens of thousands of government and military employees out of their jobs.

The indictment stated that the accused had prepared for the 2013 Gezi Park protests since 2011 and were top management organizers. After examining the indictment, a criminal court will decide within 15 days whether the case should be brought to court.

The 2013 Gezi park protests first started as a peaceful demonstration against the demolition of one of the last green, natural spaces in the city and the plans to build a replica of an Ottoman barrack in its place. The protests eventually took an anti-government turn against Erdogan’s regime. An estimated 3 million people participated in demonstrations all over the country.