Istanbul: Jailed Turkish activist Osman Kavala’s marathon trial nears verdict

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European rights court - - consiglio europeo kavala
Osman Kavala

Istanbul – One of Turkey’s most famous prisoners will appear before court Friday for what could be his final hearing in a case that has come to define Ankara’s uneasy ties with the West.
Paris-born activist and philanthropist Osman Kavala was a relative unknown when he was detained on his arrival at Istanbul’s airport from a trip to a cultural center in the Turkish city of Gaziantep in October 2017.
But his continued imprisonment without a conviction has turned the 64-year-old into a hero for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s opponents — and a focus of Western worries about the Turkish leader’s sweeping crackdown on dissent.
Kavala now stands accused of financing a wave of 2013 anti-government protests and playing a role in a failed but bloody coup attempt against Erdogan in 2016.
He was acquitted of the first charge in February 2020.
But police detained him before the bearded intellectual had a chance to return home and then charged him with the coup plot.
Kavala is now accused of both charges in a trial that looks back on some of the most tumultuous years of Erdogan’s dominant 20-year rule.
Kavala’s claims of innocence have been warmly supported by Western governments and flatly rejected by the Turkish president.
Erdogan has branded Kavala as a communist agent of the Hungarian-born US philanthropist George Soros who is using foreign money to try and topple the state.
“We can never be together with people like Kavala,” Erdogan declared in 2020.
But his treatment has prompted the Council of Europe to launch rare disciplinary proceedings against Turkey that could ultimately see Ankara’s membership suspended in the continent’s main human rights organization.
Prosecutors demanded last month that Kavala be found guilty of “attempting to overthrow” Erdogan’s government.
The harshest verdict and sentence would see Kavala jailed for life without the possibility of parole.
Kavala’s lawyers said that they expected him to attend Friday’s hearing by a video link from his prison in Silivri — about 60 kilometers west of Istanbul — and for the final session to stretch into Monday.
He is being tried together with 16 other defendants implicated in the 2013 protests. Nine out of them are currently living abroad.
Human rights advocates say Kavala’s release would send signals abroad that Turkey’s justice system is free from Erdogan’s pressure.
“Osman Kavala is one of the highest-profile detainees of Turkey. But this attention did not save him from suffering severe injustice at the hands of the judicial system,” Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher Guney Yildiz said.
“His unconditional release may mark a turning point in de-politicization of judicial prosecutions in Turkey. That’s why the result of the emblematic case is quite serious.”
London-based human rights organization ARTICLE 19 also urged Turkey to end the “judicial harassment” of Kavala and his co-defendants.
But Erdogan has seethed at the international publicity and condemnation generated by the case.
The tensions nearly spilled over into an all-out diplomatic war that threatened to break out when the United States and nine other Western embassies issued a joint letter of support for Kavala last October.
Local media reports said Erdogan’s advisers managed to convince him to walk back on his threat to expel the 10 countries’ ambassadors after being briefed on the harm this might do to Turkey’s investment climate.


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