Ahead of the expected final hearing in the trial of Osman Kavala and 16 other human rights defenders on 22 April 2022, ARTICLE 19 is calling for Kavala’s immediate and unconditional release and for all the defendants in the case to be acquitted of the charges against them. Turkey must take immediate steps to restore the rule of law, implement European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgments and cease the severe oppression of civil society.
Despite a European Court’s decision and an acquittal decision in the ‘Gezi Park’ case on 18 February 2020, Kavala has remained in prison for more than four and a half years. Several hours after his acquittal in 2020, he was rearrested for allegedly being behind a 2016 coup attempt. He is currently held in prison for ‘attempting to overthrow the constitutional order’ and ‘obtaining state secrets for political or military espionage’ under articles 309 and 328 of the Turkish Criminal Code (TCC) respectively.
In his final opinion, the prosecutor demanded that Kavala and one of his co-defendants, architect Mücella Yapıcı, be convicted of ‘attempting to overthrow the government’ under article 312 of the TCC. They both face a possible aggravated life sentence. Six other co-defendants, Çiğdem Mater, Ali Hakan Altınay, Mine Özerden, Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman and Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi, face up to 20 years in prison for ‘assisting the offence’ of ‘attempting to overthrow the government’. The prosecutor requested that the cases of other defendants, who have been outside of Turkey since the start of the prosecution, be separated. During the previous hearing on 21 March 2022, the Istanbul 13th Assize Court ruled to extend Kavala’s pre-trial detention once again. The court is expected to deliver the verdict at the upcoming hearing.
Osman Kavala had been arrested on 18 October 2017 and had subsequently been detained on 1 November 2017 in relation to the allegations of his involvement in the 2013 peaceful Gezi Park protests, when people across the country took to the streets to demand the preservation of ecological areas, and calling for their fundamental rights to be respected. 16 defendants, including Kavala, were accused of having allegedly financed and been involved in the protests, which amounted to charges for ‘attempting to overthrow the constitutional order’ under article 309 of the TCC and ‘attempting to overthrow the government’ under article 312 of the TCC.
On 10 December 2019, the European Court of Human Rights delivered a landmark judgment and ruled that the ongoing detention of Osman Kavala constitutes violation of his right to liberty and security (Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights) and that the lengthy detention amounts to politically-motivated prosecution with ‘the ulterior purpose’ of silencing Kavala as a human rights defender (Article 18 of the European Convention). In its judgment, the European Court ordered Kavala’s immediate release and noted that the activities listed as evidence refer to the ‘ordinary and legitimate activities on the part of a human rights defender and the leader of an NGO’.
On 18 February 2020, Osman Kavala and eight of his co-defendants were acquitted of all charges in Gezi Park trial by the Istanbul 30th Assize Court. Cases of the seven defendants who had been based outside of Turkey since the start of the prosecution were separated. A few hours after the acquittal decision and before Kavala was released, the Istanbul Chief Prosecutor immediately requested to rearrest Kavala as a part of a separate investigation into his alleged involvement in the attempted coup in 2016.
Dubious charges without legal credibility
ARTICLE 19 is concerned that Turkey has been engaging in tactics to circumvent the binding decision of the European Court, with a series of perplexing measures, including multiple criminal proceedings based on the same facts and evidence, merging and de-merging cases, releasing Kavala in connection with one case only to rearrest him in relation to another case, and arguing that Kavala’s ongoing detention was linked to a separate case concerning the 2016 attempted coup and that he had already been acquitted of charges examined in the European Court’s judgment.
Sarah Clarke, Head of Europe and Central Asia team of ARTICLE 19, said:
“It is beyond time for the Turkish authorities to bring an end to these bogus proceedings and release Osman Kavala. No amount of legal technicalities to justify Kavala’s prolonged imprisonment can mask that this is fundamentally judicial harassment aimed at stifling independent voices. Kavala’s detention continues despite the absence of any credible or tangible evidence against him. The dubious charges also manifest a complete lack of legal credibility.”
Schona Jolly QC, former chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC), who has observed key parts of the trial, said:
“The politically-motivated tactics and charges used by the authorities in this case amount to naked abuse of a judicial system in serious crisis.The systemic damage caused to the rule of law in Turkey by the persistent and deliberate attempts to use the legal system as a means of targeting and silencing human rights defenders, in this case and others, is intensified by the personal damage caused to Osman Kavala and his family as well as the other defendants. He must now be released.”
Turkish authorities’ attempts to bury Kavala in bogus legal charges has been noted by international bodies. In January 2022, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers launched an infringement process against the country over its notorious failure to implement the ECtHR judgment and to release Osman Kavala. Turkey is only the second country after Azerbaijan to face infringement proceedings for failing to implement a binding ruling of the European Court of Human Rights.
We urge the Istanbul 13th Assize Court court to recognise these trumped-up charges and prevent further repression of freedom of expression in Turkey. ARTICLE 19 renews its call for the immediate and unconditional release of Osman Kavala as well as for the definitive acquittal of all of the defendants.