Freedom of expression organisation ARTICLE 19 has called on the Turkish Government to drop charges against 16 leading civil society figures, and for the immediate release of Osman Kavala and Yiğit Aksakoğlu. The defendants are accused of “attempting to overthrow the government” for having allegedly financed and being involved in the peaceful Gezi Park protests that took place in 2013 across Turkey. Their trial begins on June 24 in Silivri prison in Istanbul and they all face life imprisonment without parole if found guilty.
ARTICLE 19’s Senior Director of Programmes, David Diaz-Jogeix, said:
“This trial is yet more evidence that the Turkish Government is intent to close down any forms of dissent, political opposition and freedom of expression in Turkey.
“The indictment attempts to link the 2013 Gezi Park protests to the 2016 coup attempt, despite a lack of tangible evidence. The Turkish Government is trying to rewrite history as a pretext for closing down civil society voices that challenge its authoritarian rule.”
Turkish judiciary lacks independence
ARTICLE 19 has also questioned whether the defendants will receive a fair trial and is supporting the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales to monitor this hearing, together with dozens of other international and Turkish organisations, journalists and foreign delegations.
On June 24, ARTICLE 19 will make a statement to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, in the framework of the Human Rights Council, calling into question the independence of judges and prosecutors in Turkey. The statement cites violations of the right to a fair trial in other cases that ARTICLE 19 has monitored in Turkey, which questions whether this may also occur during the Gezi Park trial.
Background to Gezi Park trial
The Gezi Park protests were a peaceful movement that took place in 2013, when hundreds of thousands of protesters marched on the streets of cities across Turkey to demand the preservation of ecological areas, and calling for the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and assembly to be respected and promoted in Turkey.
Osman Kavala, is a leading a civil society figure in Turkey, a human rights activist, a businessman and founder of Anadolu Kültür, and organisation that aims to create a culture of peace in the society through its projects. He has been held in pre-trial detention in Silivri prison for more than 400 days. Yiğit Aksakoğlu, Turkey’s representative of the Bernard van Leer Foundation and member of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, has also been in pre-trial detention on the same charge of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, attempting to overthrow the government of the Turkish republic or to prevent it from performing its duties”
Kavala appealed to the Turkish Constitutional Court and on 8 June 2018 to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on grounds of unlawful and unjustified pre-trial detention. While, his application before the ECtHR is still ongoing, in May 2019 the Turkish Constitutional Court rejected Kavala’s individual application stating that his arrest did not violate his rights. Yiğit Aksakoğlu, has also lodged an application before Turkey’s Constitutional Court and is still waiting for a decision on his pre-trial detention.
The other leading figures in Turkish civil society facing trial as part of the Gezi Park protests are: Can Dündar, Mücella Yapıcı, Memet Ali Alabora, Ali Hakan Altınay, Ayşe Pınar Alabora, Çiğdem Mater Utku, Gökçe Yılmaz, Handan Meltem Arıkan, Hanzade Hikmet Germiyanoğlu, İnanç Ekmekçi, Mine Özerden, Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman and Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi.
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