International human rights groups have strongly condemned the life sentence to Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala by a Turkish court on Monday, April 25. They demanded that Kavala be released immediately and all charges against him be dropped. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International denounced the verdict. HRW called it “the worst possible outcome to this show trial” while Amnesty termed it a “a travesty of justice of spectacular proportions”.
Kavala, along with 18 others, was convicted on Monday on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government and financing and organizing the Gezi park protests in 2013 that snowballed into countrywide anti-government protests. They were also found guilty of involvement in the failed 2016 military coup against the Erdogan government. The coup was followed by a brutal crackdown targeting politicians, activists, journalists, military and police personnel and others opposing or critical of the government.
News reports stated that Kavala’s lawyers will appeal the verdict. Executive director of the rights group Dawn, Sarah Leah Whitson, described the verdict as “devastating” and vice-president of the Human Rights Association (IHD), Eren Keskin, called it “unbelievable” and with “no legal basis”. Member of parliament from the Turkish Workers Party, Sera Kadigil, said that the verdict was the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government’s revenge against the Gezi protests and that the court had carried out the government’s instructions. She said, “there is no justice in this country. We cannot speak of impartial court. This ruling made this official.” Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly labeled Kavala as an agent of Hungarian-born US billionaire and philanthropist George Soros, and accused him of trying to overthrow the government with foreign money.
Kavala has already spent over four-and-a-half years in detention over these charges. He has now been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The seven other defendants in the case – Mucella Yapici, Cigdem Mater, Hakan Altinay, Mine Ozerden, Can Atalay, Yigit Ali Ekmekci and Tayfun Kahraman – received prison terms of 18 years each. Kavala and the others defendants had been acquitted on these charges in February 2020 and released, but were re-arrested shortly afterwards. The acquittal was overturned and a new case with various other charges was brought against them, including on charges related to the 2016 coup.
Kavala is lodged in a high security prison in Istanbul. He told the court that the verdict against him was nothing but a “judicial assassination.” Just before the verdict was announced, he described the charges against him as “conspiracy theories drafted on political and ideological grounds.” News reports noted that Kavala was acquitted of the espionage charges against him on Monday.
In 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) had asked Turkey to release Kavala in 2019. Since then, it has repeatedly called upon Turkey to release Kavala and the other defendants. After Turkey ignored the European court’s rulings in the matter, which are binding on all member states, the committee of ministers of the Council of Europe (COE) of which the ECHR is a part launched infringement proceedings against Turkey, for only the second time in its history. The proceedings against Turkey could result in sanctions or even suspension of Turkey from the COE for failing to fulfill its human rights obligations as a member state.