US calls for release of jailed Turkish rights activist Kavala

US State Department says philanthropist Osman Kavala has been jailed for more than three years on ‘specious’ charges.

Osman Kavala
Kavala has been jailed since October 2017 over charges related to the 2016 failed coup and 2013 anti-government protests [File: AFP]

The United States has called on Turkey to immediately release businessman, rights activist and philanthropist Osman Kavala, who was arrested for what the US called “specious” charges related to the 2016 failed coup and 2013 anti-government protests.

“The specious charges against Kavala, his ongoing detention, and the continuing delays in the conclusion of his trial, including through the merger of cases against him, undermine respect for the rule of law and democracy,” State Department Spokesman Ned Price said in a statement on Wednesday.

The State Department urged Turkey to abide by a European Court of Human Rights ruling in late 2019 that Kavala be released and to “ensure a just, transparent, and speedy resolution to the case in line with its domestic laws and international obligations”.

In response to Washington’s statement, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said the US should respect legal proceedings in its courts.

“Turkey is a state of law. No country or person can give orders to Turkish courts about legal proceedings,” it said, adding that issuing demands on Turkish courts while refusing to extradite US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara blames for orchestrating the failed 2016 coup, was “inconsistent and unprincipled”.

Kavala, a well-known figure in Turkish civil society, has been jailed since October 2017.

He faces a potential life sentence for allegedly trying to overthrow the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the July 2016 failed coup attempt, including espionage charges.

On Friday, a Turkish court combined those charges with a case surrounding his roll in 2013 anti-government protests and rejected Kavala’s request to be released.

He was originally acquitted in the protest case, but the decision was overturned in an appeals process last month.

Kavala continues to reject the charges, and rights groups believe Erdogan’s government is trying to make an example of the 63-year-old to other civil society leaders.

He is best known for his support for cultural projects on minority rights, Kurdish affairs and Armenian-Turkish relations.

Erdogan frequently refers to Kavala as a Turkish representative of American billionaire George Soros, who heavily invests in civil society activities abroad.

Turkey describes American researcher Henri Barkey as a co-conspirator of Kavala, and Barkey is also on trial in absentia for his alleged role in the 2016 coup.

In the State Department statement, Price also condemned Barkey’s inclusion in the “unwarranted” legal proceedings in Turkey.

“We believe the charges against Dr Barkey to be baseless, and we call on Turkey to resolve his case in a just, transparent, and rapid manner,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies