Turkey’s Campaign against Civil Society: Osman Kavala Re-Arrested

Turkey’s Campaign against Civil Society: Osman Kavala Re-Arrested

MoJust condemns the callous re-arrest of businessman, philanthropist and human rights defender Osman Kavala on charges related to the attempted coup d’état of 15 July 2016. This action demonstrates a blatant disregard for justice and human rights in the Turkish State’s ongoing campaign against critical voices.

(Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

On 10 December 2019 the European Court of Human Rights called for the immediate release of Mr Kavala, finding his initial and continued detention on charges relating to the 2013 Gezi Park protests had served an ulterior motive – to silence him and dissuade others from political activity (see here). In the words of the Court, the Gezi Park indictment referred to “the ordinary and legitimate activities on the part of a human rights defender and the leader of an NGO”. The Gezi Park proceedings were widely denounced, described by the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales, for instance, as “retaliatory and intimidatory” (see here).   

The 18 February 2020 decision of the Istanbul 30th Heavy Penal Court to acquit and order the release of Mr Kavala and 8 of his co-defendants on the basis of insufficient evidence brought scenes of relief and hope amongst the defendants, the defence teams and civil society. In addition to the subsequent opening of an investigation by the Turkish Council of Judges and Prosecutors into the judges Galip Mehmet Perk, Ahmet Tarık Çiftçioğlu and Talip Ergen, we note with concern President Erdoğan’s public criticism of the acquittal:

“This is not an innocent uprising incident. There are people behind the scenes, such as Soros, who stir up countries via uprisings. Their Turkey leg was in jail. They tried to acquit him with a manoeuvre yesterday. We respect all decisions of courts, but our and our people’s judgement about Gezi and who supported it will never change” (see here)

The Istanbul Chief Prosecutor’s order of the re-arrest of Mr Kavala within hours of the acquittal decision provides a troubling reminder of the phenomenon of politicised prosecutions in Turkey. Mr Kavala stands accused of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order (Article 309 Criminal Code). The order for his pre-trial detention on 19 February saw Mr Kavala sent back to prison after already serving 819 days in detention.

Council of Europe representatives have responded firmly to the decision to re-arrest Mr Kavala. We note the declaration of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, that his re-arrest amounts to ill-treatment (see here) and the warning of the Council of Europe Secretary General, Marija Pejčinović, that the investigation of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors “sends a strong chilling message to the Turkish judiciary” (see here). We recall also that the initial and continued detention of Mr Kavala in the Gezi Park proceedings violated his rights under both the European Convention on Human Rights and the Turkish Constitution.

The decision to re-arrest Mr Kavala is evidently an act of reprisal and a strategic measure to keep him in prison without technically standing in breach of a European Court of Human Rights judgment. The new proceedings follow an established practice of using terrorism charges to target and dissuade legitimate political and human rights work in Turkey. They put a coach and horses through any claim that Turkey is normalising its laws and practices in the post-State of Emergency period.