Turkey: Gezi Park trial seeks to rewrite narrative on failed coup attempt

On 24-25 June 2019, the Gezi Park trial against 16 leading civil society figures in Turkey, including Osman Kavala and Yiğit Aksakoğlu, will start in Silivri prison in Istanbul. All defendants face life imprisonment without parole if found guilty of charges of “attempting to overthrow the government” and “preventing it from performing its duties” for having allegedly financed and being involved in the peaceful Gezi Park protests that took place in 2013 in various cities in Turkey. ARTICLE 19 calls for Kavala’s and Aksakoğlu’s immediate release, and for all charges against the 16 defendants to be immediately dropped.

The indictment of the 16 is centred on the 2013 peaceful Gezi Park protests, when hundreds of thousands of protesters marched on the streets of cities across Turkey to demand the preservation of ecological areas, and calling for the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and assembly to be respected and promoted in Turkey.

The indictment allegedly links the “acts regarding the organization and financing of the insurrection attempt which was staged in 2013”, that the prosecution believes to be carried out by Kavala and the 15 other defendants, to the organisation of the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey; operating what we believe is a sharp shift of the narrative behind the plot of the failed coup attempt. The indictment lacks tangible evidence of the connection of the 16 defendants with the attempted coup, and its link to their alleged involvement in the Gezi Park protests.

David Diaz-Jogeix, ARTICLE 19’s Senior Director of Programmes, said: “The lack of factual evidence in the indictment of the Gezi Park case is of great concern. We call for the immediate release and dropping of these unfounded charges against the defendants.”

Osman Kavala, a leading a civil society figure in Turkey, has been held in pre-trial detention in Silivri prison since 18 October 2017 on charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, attempting to overthrow the government of the Turkish republic or to prevent it from performing its duties”. Kavala is a human rights defender, businessman and founder of Anadolu Kültür, an organisation that aims to create a culture of peace in the society through its projectsFollowing his arrest, in November 2018, the public prosecution widened the investigation and issued arrest warrants against 20 more people. As a result, in November 2018, Yiğit Aksakoğlu, Turkey’s representative of the Bernard van Leer Foundation and member of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, was also taken into pre-trial detention on same charges. In February 2019, more than 400 days after Kavala’s arrest, an indictment on the Gezi Park protests was announced and subsequently accepted in March 2019 by the Istanbul 30th High Criminal Court.

Kavala appealed on grounds of unlawful and unjustified pre-trial detention to both the Turkish Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), on 8 June 2018. While his application before the ECtHR is still ongoing, in May 2019 the Turkish Constitutional Court rejected Kavala’s individual application stating that his arrest did not violate his rights. Yiğit Aksakoğlu, has also lodged an appeal of his pre-trial detention before Turkey’s Constitutional Court and is still awaiting a decision.

The other leading figures in Turkish civil society facing trial as part of the Gezi Park protests are: Can Dündar, Mücella Yapıcı, Memet Ali Alabora, Ali Hakan Altınay, Ayşe Pınar Alabora, Çiğdem Mater Utku, Gökçe Yılmaz, Handan Meltem Arıkan, Hanzade Hikmet Germiyanoğlu, İnanç Ekmekçi, Mine Özerden, Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman and Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi.

ARTICLE 19 is supporting the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales to monitor the hearing of 24-25 June 2019, together with dozens of other international and Turkish organisations, journalists and foreign delegations who will also be present at the trial. ARTICLE 19 will also closely monitor the developments of the whole length of the trial and will continue its calls for the release of Osman Kavala and Yiğit Aksakoğlu, and for all charges against all defendants to be dropped.