Turkey and the EU have entered into a fresh debate over the fate of Osman Kavala, a political prisoner whom a European court has repeatedly ruled should be freed.
Kavala is one of Turkey’s highest-profile detainees and has been held for more than four years without a conviction.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled more than two years ago that Kavala should be released immediately and said his detention served to silence him, but Ankara has not carried out the ruling.
On Thursday, the Council of Europe — an international body distinct from the EU but including all its members — announced that it would refer the case to the ECHR for Turkey’s failure to adhere to its ruling.
It is the next step in opening “infringement proceedings” against Ankara that could ultimately see it suspended from the Council of Europe, of which it is a founding member.
“The Committee found that, by failing to ensure Kavala’s immediate release, Turkey is refusing to abide by the Court’s final judgment in his case,” the council said in a statement.
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan remained defiant. He said Thursday: “What the ECHR has said, what the Council of Europe says, this doesn’t concern us much because we expect our courts to be respected. To those who don’t show this respect: Excuse us, but we will have no respect for them either.”
Kavala was acquitted in 2020 of charges related to the 2013 nationwide protests. Hours later, another court ordered his arrest based on a charge of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order related to the 2016 coup attempt, which the ECHR had also said lacked basis.
Further, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said Thursday that Turkey had adhered to the ECHR ruling and claimed instead that Kavala was now detained for a different judicial proceeding.
He has not been found guilty of a crime.
Responding to the ECHR referral, rights group Amnesty International’s Europe Director Nils Muižnieks said in a statement: “With this landmark decision today, Turkey is on the dock not only for its refusal to free a prominent human rights defender from arbitrary detention, but also for a gross failure of its justice system epitomized by the Kavala case.
“After more than four years behind bars, we sincerely hope that the authorities will now do the right thing and free Osman Kavala.”
He continued: “The vote makes clear that by pursuing further farcical charges without any evidence against Osman Kavala, Turkey’s judicial system is simply trying to keep him behind bars come what may and that the Council of Europe, of which Turkey is a founding member, will not stand by idly and watch.
“The message from the Committee of Ministers today is clear: Turkey must release Osman Kavala and end his politically motivated persecution.”