Turkey defies European deadline to release Osman Kavala from jail

Council of Europe reportedly called for the jailed businessman and philanthropist to be released by February 2.

Lawyers, opposition lawmakers and supporters gather in front of the Justice Palace, the Caglayan Courthouse, as a Turkish court holds a hearing of philanthropist Osman Kavala and 15 others over their role in nationwide protests in 2013, in Istanbul, Turkey, January 17, 2022.
Lawyers, opposition lawmakers and supporters of Kavala gather in front of the Caglayan Courthouse in Istanbul ahead of a hearing [Dilara Senkaya/Reuters]

A Turkish court has extended the detention of civil society leader Osman Kavala, ignoring a deadline from Europe’s top human rights body to release him, in a case that has hurt Ankara’s ties with the West.

The 64-year-old businessman and philanthropist has been held without a conviction since October 2017 for allegedly financing a wave of 2013 anti-government protests and playing a role in an attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016. He denies any wrongdoing.

The court ruled by a majority of votes on Monday to keep Kavala in jail for the duration of his trial.

It set the next hearing for February 21 and said his detention would be re-evaluated on February 13. Kavala was detained on October 18, 2017.

Ayse Bugra, wife of philanthropist Osman Kavala, hugs a friend as she leaves the courthouse after a hearing of Osman Kavala and 15 others over their role in nationwide protests in 2013, in Istanbul, Turkey,
Ayse Bugra, wife of Kavala, hugs a friend as she leaves the court after a hearing over his role in nationwide protests in 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey [File: Umit Bektas/Reuters]

Human rights groups have said the case has political motivations and is part of a crackdown on dissent under President Erdogan. The government rejects this and says Turkey’s courts are independent.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) called in late 2019 for Kavala’s release over a lack of reasonable suspicion that he committed an offence, ruling that his detention served to silence him.

The Council of Europe (CoE) told Turkey in December it was preparing “infringement proceedings” over its failure to release Kavala, a move that could lead to Ankara’s suspension from the body.

Human Rights Watch’s Emma Sinclair-Webb said on Twitter the CoE had given Turkey a final chance to release Kavala before its February 2 session, at which it will send the case back to the ECHR, starting the proceedings.

Milena Buyum, Turkey campaigner for Amnesty International, called on the Council of Europe to act.

“Refer this stubborn refusal to implement the binding (ECHR) judgment back to the court under infringement proceedings,” she said on Twitter, referring to the first step in the process.

Erdogan threatened in October to expel the ambassadors of 10 countries, including the United States, Germany and France, after they reiterated the ECHR ruling seeking Kavala’s release.

At that time, the dispute added to pressure on the ailing Turkish lira amid concerns about the effect on Turkey’s relations with the West. Since then, it plunged to record lows at the end of 2021, before stabilising this month.

In 2020, Kavala was acquitted of charges over nationwide protests in 2013 focused on Istanbul’s Gezi Park. The ruling was overturned last year and combined with charges in another case related to a coup attempt in 2016.

Kavala is on trial with 51 others in a combination of three separate cases over the 2013 protests and the 2016 coup attempt.

Source: News Agencies