Turkey: Osman Kavala must be released immediately

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Paris-Geneva, November 24, 2021 – After 1487 days of arbitrary detention, Osman Kavala will appear in court for his next hearing in the Gezi case on November 26, 2021. Ahead of this new hearing, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) urges the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release him and to drop all charges against him as well as against all human rights defenders in Turkey.

After more than four years of arbitrary detention on trumped-up accusations of instigating anti-government movements and espionage, Osman Kavala is set to appear before the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court on November 26, 2021 in the framework of the Gezi case trial that has been ongoing since March 2019.

On December 10, 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that Osman Kavala’s detention violated Article 5 (the right to liberty and security) and Article 18 (limitation on use of restrictions on rights) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and ordered his immediate release. Despite the Court’s judgment, Mr. Kavala was not released and this decision is yet to be implemented. As a consequence, on September 16, 2021, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (CoE) stated that it will commence infringement proceedings against Turkey unless the country complies with the ECtHR decision and releases Mr. Kavala before its 1419th human rights meeting, which will take place from November 30 to December 2, 2021.

Following the Committee of Ministers of the CoE’s announcement, several high-level figures in Turkey, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, issued statements targeting Osman Kavala, violating the principle of presumption of innocence by accusing him of committing a crime, and attempting to influence the judiciary. Furthermore, State-sponsored media outlets published opinion pieces targeting Mr. Kavala, which include hinted "instructions" to the judiciary.

Osman Kavala is a prominent businessperson, philanthropist and human rights defender. As the founder of several civil society organisations in Turkey, he promotes democracy, human rights and multiculturalism in the country. He founded the civil society organisation Anadolu Kültür in 2002 and several arts centres in Anatolian towns. Osman Kavala is also a founding member, board member and advisory board member of many civil society organisations including the Open Society Foundation (Açık Toplum Vakfı), Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (Türkiye Ekonomik ve Sosyal Etüdler Vakfı – TESEV), and Diyarbakır Political and Social Research Institute (Diyarbakır Siyasal ve Sosyal Araştırmalar Enstitüsü – DİSA).

Osman Kavala was taken into police custody on October 18, 2017 and placed in pre-trial detention on November 1, 2017 in Silivri High Security Prison on accusations of “being the mastermind behind the Gezi Park Protests in 2013” and “taking part in the attempted coup of July 2016”. He spent one year and four months in prison without an indictment and official charges. The scope of the investigation was later expanded and it turned into a high profile criminal case targeting many civil society actors, including academics and employees of Anadolu Kültür. Osman Kavala’s arbitrary detention was eventually challenged before the ECtHR, which ordered his immediate release on December 2019.

On February 18, 2020, Osman Kavala, along with other defendants, was acquitted of all charges in the Gezi trial, and the judge ordered his release. Yet, the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Kavala on the same day, preventing his release from prison, on trumped-up accusations of “attempting to overthrow the government” through his alleged involvement the attempted coup of July 15, 2016. İstanbul 8th Criminal Peace Judgeship eventually ruled for his re-detention under the accusations in question on February 19, 2020. On March 9, 2020 another detention order was issued against him for supposed “espionage”. The previous detention order based on the accusation of “attempting to overthrow the government” was later cancelled, but he was not released in light of the second detention order based on “espionage” accusations.

Finally, despite the acquittals, the Gezi case was unlawfully merged with the çArşı case leading to a case with 52 defendants, with only Mr. Kavala under arrest. Considering the number of defendants, it is very likely that the case will last for several more months, during which Osman Kavala’s arbitrary detention may continue indefinitely.

The Observatory strongly condemns the ongoing arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Osman Kavala, which seem to be in retaliation of his legitimate human rights work. The Observatory urges the authorities in Turkey to immediately and unconditionally release him and to drop all charges against him.

The Observatory further calls on the authorities in Turkey to put an end to the ongoing criminalisation, targeting and harassment of all human rights defenders in the country and to stop introducing disproportionate restrictions to the legitimate exercise of human rights by civil society and citizens of Turkey.

Furthermore, in the event that Osman Kavala is not released on the November 26, 2021 hearing, the Observatory urges the Committee of Ministers of the CoE to abide by their decision and to commence infringement proceedings against Turkey.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

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