Jul 28 2020

Grim Milestone in Turkish Philanthropist’s Ongoing Imprisonment

by HG Masters

OSMAN KAVALA has been detained by the Turkish government for 1,000 days. Courtesy Free Osman Kavala campaign.

Monday, July 27, marked the 1,000th day that philanthropist and cultural patron Osman Kavala has spent in Turkey’s maximum-security Silivri prison, outside of Istanbul. He is currently being held in solitary confinement on a charge of espionage, after his acquittal in February of attempting to overthrow the Turkish government through the 2013 Gezi Park protests, which state prosecutors alleged he had masterminded and funded. In a statement from Kavala released by the Free Osman Kavala campaign, he criticized the government’s establishment of a “parallel law enforcement system” and the “instrumentalization of the judiciary.” 

In the lead up to the bleak milestone, Kavala’s supporters in Turkey and internationally—many of them connected to the cultural initiatives funding work of his nonprofit organization Anadolu Kültür—have launched a new campaign to highlight his ongoing plight. A July 25 press conference with his defense counsels, Köksal Bayraktar, Deniz Tolga Aytöre, İlkan Koyuncu, and Kavala’s wife, professor Ayşe Buğra, outlined the increasingly convoluted and absurd circumstances around his case. Although acquitted on February 18 of charges of violating article 312 of the Turkish penal code, Kavala was immediately re-arrested before leaving the prison on a similar charge (article 309) in connection with the attempted military coup d’etat in 2016. Already in detention, he was issued with a new arrest warrant on March 9 on charges of espionage (article 328). A court permitted his release on March 20 in connection with his arrest for violating article 309, but because of the new charges he has remained in prison since then. Kavala’s lawyers say they still have not seen an indictment for the latest charges. 

In the strongest public statement to date from the United States, on Monday, the Department of State called for Kavala’s release, noting that he has “spent 1,000 days in detention without being convicted of any crime,” and urging Turkey to “comply with its own commitment to justice and rule of law.”

In December 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Kavala’s prolonged detention since October 2017, when he was first arrested, was a violation of three articles of the European Convention on Human Rights and ordered his immediate release. The Turkish government and courts have so far refused to recognize the ECHR’s ruling, which was reconfirmed as a final decision in May. Kavala’s lawyers have filed a new case to the constitutional court in Turkey and are appealing to the Committee of Ministers for the European Council, due to meet in September.

Prosecutorial negligence has been a hallmark of Kavala’s case to date. After his initial detention by police on October 17, 2017, at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport after returning from Gaziantep, he was not formally arrested until days later on November 1, and was then held at Silivri prison for nearly 16 months before prosecutors delivered an official indictment. The subsequent trial was marred by procedural irregularities, including the replacement of two judges after the first two hearings. The main witness against Kavala was a man who had been dismissed from his job in the Turkish military because of serious psychiatric issues, who also gave his testimony under a false name.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has led an outspoken campaign against Kavala and has openly inveighed against him and his defenders. After a panel of judges acquitted Kavala in February, the government’s Council of Judges and Prosecutors immediately began an investigation of their decision.  

Buğra said her husband’s case illustrated that “we have lost all sense of reality,” and that basic legal standards, such as reasonable doubt, have disappeared in Turkey. Kavala’s mother, Buğra added, is 90 years old and is uncertain whether she will ever see her son again.

HG Masters is the deputy editor and deputy publisher of ArtAsiaPacific.

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