Turkish court rules to keep Osman Kavala in jail

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Turkey risks further tension with European allies after court rules keeping the philanthropist in prison during the trial.

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Istanbul, Turkey An Istanbul court has ordered the continued detention of philanthropist Osman Kavala, which could further strain Turkey’s ties with Europe.

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The hearing was the first after a dispute with several Western allies over a case that brought Turkey to the brink of a diplomatic crisis last month, when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for the expulsion of ambassadors from 10 countries after urging Kavala to be released. was threatened. ,

Rights groups have called criticism of the 64-year-old Kavala’s detention and trial as absurd and politically motivated. The Turkish government has rejected the criticism, saying Turkey’s judiciary is independent.

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Friday’s court decision could jeopardize Turkey’s membership in the Council of Europe, which has called for Kavala’s release in line with a decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The Istanbul Court has set the next hearing for January 17, 2022.

Turkey is a member of the 47-nation Council of Europe and is bound by its own national constitution to comply with the rules of the ECHR. But Ankara has defied several orders from the ECHR, including the release of Kavala as well as jailed pro-Kurdish politician Selahtin Demirtas.

Turkey risks infringement procedures

The Committee of Ministers, which oversees the implementation of the decisions of the ECHR, is scheduled to meet in Strasbourg from 30 November to 2 December.

Andrew Cutting, a spokesman for the Council of Europe, told Al Jazeera that the committee’s decision is expected to be published on December 3.

Cutting said the committee of ministers would first have to decide by a two-thirds majority whether to put Turkey on formal notice that they intend to initiate infringement proceedings, and then an additional two to formally send the case back. – A third majority is required. To ask the ECHR whether Turkey has violated the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Convention by failing to implement the court’s decision.

Ayse Bugra, wife of philanthropist Osman Kavala, speaks to the media in front of the court after hearing on the role of Kavala and 15 others in nationwide protests in Istanbul, Turkey November 26, 2021. [Umit Bektas/Reuters]

At that point, Turkey could become the second country after Azerbaijan to face infringement proceedings at the Council of Europe.

European Parliament correspondent on Turkey Nacho Sánchez Amor, who has attended previous hearings, told Al Jazeera that the court’s decision to detain Kavala undermines recent efforts to improve relations between the EU and Turkey.

“This is today the last opportunity for the Turkish state to comply with its obligations under the Charter of the Council of Europe, and I am disappointed because I would like the infringement process to be avoided,” he said.

“But apparently at this very moment, later [seeing] Again this challenge to the ECHR regime of the Council of Europe, we expect a solution from the Committee of Ministers to open up the violation procedures.

strained relationship

Diplomatic disputes between Turkey and several Western countries erupted last month when 10 ambassadors to Turkey issued a statement demanding Kavala’s immediate release.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the ambassador was “beyond diplomatic norms” and ordered his expulsion but later backed down from the threat.

The dispute was settled following a carefully worded statement from Western embassies, which stated that they would continue to operate in accordance with the practices set out in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

The 10 countries – the US, Canada, New Zealand, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Finland – represent Turkey’s NATO allies and some of its largest trading partners.

Erdogan called the dispute a victory for his insistence that the country do not interfere with Turkey’s judicial process, and told supporters that the embassy “will be more careful now”.

Rights groups rejected the decision

Rights groups have also called on the committee to take action against Turkey in the Kavala case.

Human Rights Watch’s Emma Sinclair-Webb wrote on Twitter Friday: “Osman Kavala’s custody has been again illegally extended by unanimous vote of the court.” Called upon the Committee of Ministers to pursue infringement proceedings against Turkey.

,[Turkey’s] ECHR’s refusal to implement a binding decision is not only an unintentional violation of Osman Kavala’s right to freedom, but also a threat to the European human rights system as a whole,” Amnesty International’s Europe regional director Nils Muiz said on Twitter. written.

“It is up to the Member States in the Council of Europe to respond to this challenge and initiate infringement proceedings.”

‘No new evidence’

Kavala, 64, is known for his work with civil society groups in Turkey, including the Open Society Foundation, whose Turkish chapter he founded. He was first arrested more than four years ago and in 2019 was charged with being part of a conspiracy behind the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul. He was acquitted by a Turkish court in February 2020.

But the philanthropist was never released, and hours after he was acquitted, prosecutors filed new charges saying he was part of a separate conspiracy related to the failed 2016 coup attempt.

His case was later merged with 51 others who were charged in connection with the 2013 Gezi protests, including espionage, membership in “terror” groups, and trying to violently overthrow the government. He was charged with a number of offences, including committing If found guilty, Kavala could face a life sentence.

Kavala denied the allegations, saying the allegations were of a “fantastic nature” and not based on any evidence. He has refused to attend further hearings, and on Friday he did not appear in court via a video conferencing system attached to the Silivri prison outside Istanbul, where he is held.

Lawyers, opposition legislators and supporters gather in front of the Justice Palace, Kagalyan Courthouse, as a Turkish court hears philanthropist Osman Kavala and 15 others. [Umit Bektas/Reuters]

Kavala’s defense lawyers said in a statement that the court’s reasoning for keeping him in custody was based on allegations that were not sufficient for the prosecution to mention in the case.

Kavala is accused of being involved in a conspiracy for the 2016 coup attempt with Henry Barkey, an American academic who is being tried in absentia in the same case and denies the charges, based on cellular phone records. An allegation that featured the two in close proximity. Defense lawyers said the data did not show that the two ever had a phone conversation, something Barkie also said.

The court also cited allegations that Kavala funded the 2013 Gezi protests, which began as a rally by thousands of people against a planned redevelopment project in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, then into larger anti-government protests. extended.

Kavala’s defense lawyers said a report cited by the court of Turkey’s Financial Crimes Investigation Board does not conclude that there was any evidence that money was sent to the Gezi Park protesters.

“The trial stage shows that no new evidence has been presented for a person who has been detained for 4 years with similar charges and charges, and the evidence put forward by the indictment to raise a simple suspicion Not even of a quality to have,” the lawyers said in a statement.

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