Friday, December 18, 2020 

Today, an Istanbul court commenced the latest trial of Osman Kavala, one of Turkey’s most prominent civil society leaders who has now been unjustly imprisoned for more than three years. Kavala, together with the Turkish-American scholar Henri Barkey, stands accused of committing espionage and aiding a 2016 coup attempt against the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—charges that the international community has dismissed as baseless and ludicrous. For many in Turkey and beyond, the trial is considered yet another attempt by Erdoğan’s government to keep an innocent citizen behind bars for political reasons. 

Kavala, a highly respected philanthropist, has devoted his life to promoting a more civil, just and peaceful Turkey. His NGO, Anadolu Kültür, and his other civic initiatives have actively improved Turkey’s stability and prosperity, upheld values such as tolerance and social reconciliation, and promoted equality for Turkey’s youth, poor, and ethnic and religious minorities.

Despite Kavala’s deep commitment to improving Turkey’s human rights and democracy, the Turkish government has relentlessly persecuted him, pursuing implausible and baseless charges to depict him as a criminal mastermind and to keep him locked up without due process. Since he was taken into custody in October 2017, Kavala has been charged, absurdly and without evidence, with attempting to overthrow the government through mass protests; aiding a coup attempt; and conducting espionage. A December 2019 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)—whose decisions Turkish courts are bound to implement—found no evidence against Kavala and ordered his immediate release. Turkey has since acquitted Kavala of the first charge, but rather than releasing him, invented the new charges of espionage and aiding the coup —a blatant attempt to bypass the ECtHR ruling and keep him in prison. Turkey’s Constitutional Court, which has convened twice since September to review the legality of Kavala’s detention, on Tuesday referred the case to the court’s Grand Chamber for review, although no date has yet been set. Today, the Istanbul court ruled for Kavala’s continued detention until the trial’s next hearing set for February 5, 2021.  

Kavala’s case is emblematic of the plight of the thousands of people arbitrarily detained in Turkish prisons through politically motivated prosecutions, simply for exercising their rights to peaceful opposition and freedom of expression. Barkey, who will be tried in absentia, is among several American citizens and consular employees whom Erdoğan’s government has unjustly prosecuted in recent years.

Numerous international organizations, including the Council of Europe, have denounced Kavala’s detention as politically motivated. This summer, the U.S. Department of State joined a growing number of international governments calling for Kavala’s immediate release.  

Turkey must comply with its international obligations and urgently stop its unlawful and unjust detentions of civil society leaders, journalists, academics, politicians, and ordinary citizens for political reasons. As a first step towards rebuilding the rule of law, we urge the Turkish government to drop all charges against Kavala and Barkey, and to set Kavala free immediately and unconditionally. 

Photo Credit: Janbazian on Wikimedia Commons