Turkey: Release Osman Kavala and drop charges against all defendants in Gezi Park trial

ARTICLE 19 is calling for the release of Osman Kavala ahead of the second hearing in the Gezi Park trial, which takes place on July 18-19 in Silivri prison in Turkey. The human rights activist and leading figure of Turkey’s civil society has been held in pre-trial since November 2017 on charges of “attempting to overthrow the government” as a result of his alleged involvement in the Gezi Park protests.

ARTICLE 19’s Senior Director of Programmes, David Diaz-Jogeix, said: “Osman Kavala has been in prison for over 21 months before his trial even began. Grounds for holding him in detention are baseless and the authorities should release him immediately.”

Kavala is the only defendant being held in pre-trial detention after Yiğit Aksakoğlu, Turkey’s representative of the Bernard van Leer Foundation and member of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, was released during the previous Gezi Park hearing in June.

While welcoming the release of Yiğit Aksakoğlu, at the last hearing, ARTICLE 19 is calling for all charges against Kavala and the other 15 defendants to be dropped immediately.

David Diaz-Jogeix added: “The Turkish Government is trying to re-write history and link peaceful protests in Gezi Park with the coup that took place three years later – despite having no evidence to support this link. It is ironic that a peaceful demonstration that called for greater freedom of expression in Turkey is now being used to undermine Turkish citizens’ right to assemble and protest. We hope that the court will recognise these trumped up charges are just another way that the authorities are trying to repress freedom of thought and free expression in Turkey. The charges should be dropped at this hearing.”

Sixteen leading civil society figures are on trial and face life imprisonment without parole if found guilty.

Lack of fair trial

ARTICLE 19 has questioned whether the defendants will receive a fair trial and is supporting the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales to monitor this hearing, together with dozens of other international and Turkish organisations, journalists and foreign delegations. The detention of Kavala is still considered arbitrary, and ARTICLE 19 will continue monitoring the upcoming hearing to assess compliance with human rights standards.

Background to Gezi Park trial

The Gezi Park protests were a peaceful movement that took place in 2013, when hundreds of thousands of protesters marched in 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.

Osman Kavala, is a leading civil society figure in Turkey, a human rights activist, a businessman and founder of Anadolu Kültür, an organisation that aims to create a culture of peace in society through its projects. He has been held in pre-trial detention in Silivri prison for more than 400 days, charged with “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, attempting to overthrow the government of the Turkish republic or to prevent it from performing its duties”.

Kavala appealed to the Turkish Constitutional Court and on 8 June 2018 to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on grounds of unlawful and unjustified pre-trial detention. 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.

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.

For more information and interviews, contact Pam Cowburn, 00 44 7749 785 932, [email protected]