Turkey: ARTICLE 19 calls for acquittal of Gezi Park defendants

Turkey: ARTICLE 19 calls for acquittal of Gezi Park defendants - Civic Space

Gezi Park protests 2013. Photo credit: Alan Hilditch CC BY 2.0

ARTICLE 19 has called for the defendants in the ‘Gezi Park trial’ to be acquitted at what is expected to be their final hearing tomorrow, February 18, 2020.

David Diaz-Jogeix, Senior Director of Programmes at ARTICLE 19 said:

“The Gezi Park trial has been an attempt by the Turkish authorities to rewrite history by falsely linking environmental protests that took place in 2013 to the attempted 2016 coup against the Turkish government. These prosecutions have been designed to intimidate what remains of civil society in Turkey.

“The prosecution’s arguments have relied on conspiracy theories not evidence. Along with numerous irregularities in the court proceedings, the defendants have not received a fair trial. Yet, if convicted they face life sentences without parole.

“The European Court of Human Rights has already found that Osman Kavala’s detention is arbitrary and aimed at silencing him. He should be immediately released and charges against all defendants should be dropped.”

About the Gezi Park protests

The sixteen defendants are being prosecuted for their involvement in protests at Gezi Park in 2013, which were aimed at halting the redevelopment of a park in central Istanbul. It quickly became a rallying cry for the right to protest, following the police crackdown on the protesters. Hundreds of thousands of people took part in the protests across Turkey. Three years later, the Turkish authorities attempted to link the protests to the attempted coup against the Turkish government. The sixteen defendants were accused of financing the protests and charged with terrorism crimes including, “attempting to overthrow the government” and “preventing it from performing its duties”.

More recently, the public prosecutor called the peaceful protests an “insurrection” which “though it was presented as an innocent protest for democratic rights, its main aim was to create an environment of chaos and disorder across the country by spreading acts of violence by means of various terrorist organizations, thereby inciting the public to an armed rebellion and public revolt against the government of the Republic of Turkey”. [1]

However, the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales, which ARTICLE 19 is supporting to observe the hearings has said that the testimony of key witnesses: “only reinforces BHRC’s view that there is simply no evidence to support the prosecution’s case that Mr Kavala and the other Defendants had attempted to overthrow the Government and constitutional order, through force and violence.”

In a report published on 14 February, they said: “The attempt to cast peaceful Gezi Park protestors within the net of violent terrorism, retrospectively and without recourse to the evidential threshold required of the Prosecutor, has a chilling effect on the present and future adherence to international laws and standards, as well as for civil society in Turkey.” [2]

Osman Kavala

Osman Kavala is a leading civil society figure in Turkey, a human rights activist, a businessman and founder of Anadolu Kültür, an organisation that aims to create a culture of peace in society through its projects. Kavala has been held in pre-trial detention in Silivri prison for around 20 months, charged with “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, attempting to overthrow the government of the Turkish republic or to prevent it from performing its duties”.

In December 2019, the  European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that Kavala should be immediately released saying that there was a “lack of reasonable suspicion that the applicant had committed an offense”.

The defendants

The sixteen defendants are: Osman Kavala, Yiğit Aksakoğlu, Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi, Çiğdem Mater Utku, Ali Hakan Altınay, Mine Özerden, Tayfun Kahraman, Şerafettin Can Atalay, Ayşe Mücella Yapıcı, Gökçe (Yılmaz) Tüylüoğlu, Hanzade Hikmet Germiyanoğlu, İnanç Ekmekçi, Can Dündar, Memet Ali Alabora, Ayşe Pınar Alabora, and Handan Meltem Arıkan.

For more information, contact pamcowburn@article19.org

[1] http://bianet.org/english/print/219763-who-is-charged-with-what-in-prosecutor-s-opinion-in-gezi-trial

[2] https://www.barhumanrights.org.uk/bhrc-interim-trial-report-the-gezi-park-trial-continues-with-the-ongoing-detention-of-osman-kavala-in-defiance-of-echr-decision-ordering-his-immediate-release/