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European court rejects Turkish appeal of Osman Kavala ruling

The European Court of Human Rights rejected an appeal by Turkish officials Tuesday, upholding a December ruling calling for the release of jailed Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala.

ISTANBUL — Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala has been jailed without conviction for 925 days and a recent decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has increased pressure on the Turkish justice system to release the prominent civil society figure.

On Tuesday, the ECHR rejected a Turkish appeal of a Dec. 10 ruling that found Kavala’s imprisonment to be politically motivated and called for his immediate release. Kavala has since remained behind bars as Turkish officials sought a referral to the court’s Grand Chamber on March 9, the last possible date to do so.

With the appeal now rejected, the ECHR upheld its December ruling and human rights advocates are calling on Turkish justice officials to abide by the decision and release Kavala without further delay.

“Turkey should immediately release Osman Kavala … and drop all the charges against him,” Milena Buyum, Turkey campaigner for Amnesty International, told Al-Monitor. “There is no evidence of wrongdoing, which has been the case for two and a half years now and continues to be the case.”

Kavala was originally arrested Nov. 1, 2017, for his alleged participation in and support of the 2013 Gezi Park protests. Along with 15 other defendants, Kavala was accused of attempting to overthrow the government in a 657-page indictment issued nearly a year and half after his detention on Feb. 19, 2019, by Istanbul’s chief prosecutors.

Court proceedings continued in the so-called Gezi trial through 2019, leading to the acquittal of some defendants. Following the ECHR ruling in December, Kavala and the eight remaining defendants were acquitted on Feb. 18, 2020, sparking a short-lived moment of celebration before Kavala was rearrested the same day on new espionage charges related to a 2016 coup attempt.

Human rights advocates saw the rearrest as an attempt by Turkish officials to circumvent the ECHR ruling for his release. Buyum said Tuesday’s decision to uphold the ruling implies Turkish judges failed to present sufficient evidence to differentiate Kavala’s espionage case from previous charges lodged against him.

“There’s really no reason for him to remain in prison,” Buyum told Al-Monitor. “This new charge is based on the old, unconvincing and unsubstantiated allegations for which the state has not been able to provide a conviction for over two years.”

Turkey's Justice Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

In its December ruling, the ECHR concluded Turkey had violated Articles 5/1, 5/4 and 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights, essentially stating Kavala had been denied the right to liberty, a speedy trial and that his detention was a misuse of Turkish laws to “silence” the defendant.

Kavala continues to be held in Istanbul’s Silivri prison, where 44 inmates tested positive for COVID-19, according to a May 8 statement by the Bakirkoy chief prosecutor’s office. Selahattin Demirtas, the former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, who is being held in Edirne prison after the ECHR declared his detention was also in violation of Article 18. An appeal of the court’s ruling on Demirtas’ case was accepted March 18, 2019, and the Grand Chamber is scheduled to review the decision as Demirtas nears his 1,300th day behind bars.

Following Tuesday’s decision on Kavala’s case, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers will monitor developments to follow whether Turkish officials adhere to the ruling and release the civil society figure.

“With the court’s decision to reject the Turkish government’s request for referral of Kavala’s case, the European Court’s ruling from last December establishing Kavala’s imprisonment as politically motivated is now final,” Marc Behrendt, director of Freedom House’s Europe and Eurasia programs, said in a statement Tuesday. “Turkey should uphold its human rights obligations and release him immediately.”