Turkey: Arrest of Civil Society Leader Arbitrary, Punitive

 (HRW) – An Istanbul court decision on November 1, 2017, to imprison a businessman and civic leader is an example of the politicized and arbitrary nature of Turkey’s justice system, Human Rights Watch said today.

Osman Kavala is the head of the Kavala group of companies, inherited from his father, and the founder of the nonprofit cultural organization Anadolu Kültür. He is well-known for his active engagement with the community and involvement in many initiatives in support of cultural dialogue, peace and reconciliation, and the arts. He faces a criminal investigation on alleged suspicion of attempting to overthrow the government and the constitutional order in connection with widespread anti-government protests in 2013 that began in Istanbul’s Gezi Park and the 2016 attempted coup, charges that carry a penalty of life in prison without parole.

“The case against Osman Kavala is a disgraceful example of how politicized court decisions in Turkey follow a calculated smear campaign in pro-government media,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “We have seen a pattern of prosecutors producing outlandish allegations with no evidence and courts complying, demonstrating how Turkey’s justice system acts as a handmaiden to politicians.”

The case against Kavala is also another dramatic setback for all groups in Turkey that, like Kavala, work on initiatives to strengthen human rights and the rule of law and to promote pluralism and tolerance. It comes days after 10 human rights defenders who had been held for more than three months were released on bail. They are being prosecuted for aiding terrorist organizations and, like Kavala, had been subjected to an intense smear campaign accusing them of coup plotting, fomenting chaos in Turkey, and links to outlawed armed groups.

The court decision to keep Kavala in custody relies on the prosecutor’s allegations that he “is publicly known as being a director and organizer of the actions known as the Gezi events,” and that he was in “unnaturally intense contact with [US-Turkish academic] Henri Jak Barkey and foreigners who were among the organizers of the [July 15, 2016] coup attempt.” Neither allegation has been supported with any credible evidence. The court’s decision repeats similar reports about Kavala in the media and earlier smear campaigns against him.

Police detained Kavala on October 18, after a report on a website and other writings that attempted to discredit both his business activities and his wide-ranging civic initiatives and connections with various nongovernmental organizations. Once he had been detained, several newspapers close to the government ran headlines accusing him of financing terrorism and coup plotting, holding him responsible for the Gezi protests in Istanbul and suggesting he was involved in the 2016 coup attempt. These accusations apparently also form the basis of the prosecutor’s investigation, which continues.

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“Days after release of the Istanbul 10 human rights defenders, the arrest of Osman Kavala shows that the government is intent on continuing the crackdown on human rights defenders and civil society,” Williamson said. “The Kavala case demonstrates that Turkey’s justice system has become an instrument of deep injustice.”

This report prepared by Human Rights Watch