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Turkey
29.04.22
Urgent Interventions

Turkey: Sentencing to aggravated life imprisonment of Osman Kavala

TUR 002 / 0422 / OBS 033
Sentencing /
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment
Turkey
April 29, 2022

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your intervention in the following situation in Turkey.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed about the sentencing to aggravated life imprisonment of Mr. Osman Kavala, a prominent businessperson, philanthropist and human rights defender. As the founder of several civil society organisations in Turkey, Mr. Kavala promotes democracy, human rights and multiculturalism in the country. He founded the civil society organisation Anadolu Kültür in 2002 and several arts centres in Anatolian towns. Osman Kavala is also a founding member, board member and advisory board member of many civil society organisations including the Open Society Foundation (Açık Toplum Vakfı), Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (Türkiye Ekonomik ve Sosyal Etüdler Vakfı – TESEV), and Diyarbakır Political and Social Research Institute (Diyarbakır Siyasal ve Sosyal Araştırmalar Enstitüsü – DİSA).

On April 25, 2022, during the second session of the final hearing of the Gezi trial, the İstanbul 13th Heavy Penal Court sentenced Osman Kavala to aggravated life imprisonment for "attempting to overthrow the government" (Article 312 of the Turkish Penal Code), and acquitted him of the charge of "espionage" (Article 328). Mücella Yapıcı, Çiğdem Mater, Hakan Altınay, Mine Özerden, Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman and Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi, the other seven defendants in this case, have been sentenced each to 18 years of imprisonment for “assisting an attempt to overthrow the government” and the court ruled for their arrest.

At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, Osman Kavala remained imprisoned at the Silivri Prison High Security Prison, where he has been arbitrarily detained since October 18, 2017.

The Observatory recalls that on October 18, 2017, Osman Kavala was taken into police custody at Istanbul Ataturk Airport on his way back from a trip to Antep for a joint project with Goethe Institute, and placed in pre-trial detention on November 1, 2017 in Silivri High Security Prison on accusations of “being the mastermind behind the Gezi Park Protests in 2013” and “taking part in the attempted coup of July 2016”. He spent one year and four months in prison without an indictment and official charges. The scope of the investigation was later expanded and it turned into a high profile criminal case targeting many civil society actors, including academics and employees of Anadolu Kültür.

On February 18, 2020, Osman Kavala, along with other defendants, was acquitted of all charges in the Gezi trial, and the judge ordered his release. Yet, the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued a detention order for Mr. Kavala on the same day, preventing his release from prison, on trumped-up accusations of “attempting to change the constitutional order of the Republic of Turkey” through his alleged involvement in the attempted coup of July 15, 2016. On February 19, 2020, the İstanbul 8th Criminal Peace Judgeship ruled for his re-arrest. On March 9, 2020 another arrest warrant was issued against him for supposed “espionage”. On January 22, 2021, the acquittal in the Gezi case was overturned by the regional court, and unlawfully merged with the çArşı case on July 28, 2021, leading to a case with 52 defendants, with only Mr. Kavala under arrest. Gezi and çArşı cases were separated again on February 21, 2022.

Osman Kavala’s arbitrary detention was challenged before the European Court of Human Rights and, on December 10, 2019, the Court ruled that his detention was in violation of Article 5 (the right to liberty and security) and Article 18 (limitation on use of restrictions on rights) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and ordered his immediate release. Despite the Court’s judgment, Mr. Kavala was not released. As a consequence, on September 16, 2021, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (CoE) stated that it would commence infringement proceedings against Turkey unless the country complied with the ECtHR decision and released Mr. Kavala before its 1419th human rights meeting of November-December 2021. Following the Committee of Ministers of the CoE’s announcement, several high-level figures in Turkey, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, issued statements targeting Osman Kavala, violating the principle of presumption of innocence by accusing him of committing a crime, and attempting to influence the judiciary. Furthermore, State-sponsored media outlets published opinion pieces targeting Mr. Kavala, which included hinted "instructions" to the judiciary.

The Observatory strongly condemns the sentencing of Osman Kavala, Mücella Yapıcı, Çiğdem Mater, Hakan Altınay, Mine Özerden, Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman and Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi, as well as the ongoing arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Osman Kavala, which seem to be in retaliation of their legitimate human rights work.

The Observatory urges the authorities in Turkey to immediately and unconditionally release them, put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against them and to drop all charges against them.

The Observatory further calls on the authorities in Turkey to put an end to the ongoing criminalisation, targeting and harassment of all human rights defenders in the country and to stop introducing disproportionate restrictions to the legitimate exercise of human rights by civil society and citizens of Turkey.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Turkey asking them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Osman Kavala, Mücella Yapıcı, Çiğdem Mater, Hakan Altınay, Mine Özerden, Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman and Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi, as well as all human rights defenders in Turkey;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Osman Kavala, Mücella Yapıcı, Çiğdem Mater, Hakan Altınay, Mine Özerden, Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman and all other human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in the country;

iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level – against Osman Kavala, Mücella Yapıcı, Çiğdem Mater, Hakan Altınay, Mine Özerden, Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman and Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi, as well as all other human rights defenders in Turkey, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.

Addresses:

  • Ambassador Mr. Sadık Arslan, Permanent Mission of Turkey to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Email: turkey.unog@mfa.gov.tr

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Turkey in your respective country.

***

Paris-Geneva, April 29, 2022

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

  • Tel FIDH: + 33 (1) 43 55 25 18
  • Tel OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39
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