Kavala’s participation in 2013 Gezi protests not a crime, Turkey’s chief justice says

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Chief Justice Zühtü Arslan

Zühtü Arslan, the chief judge of Turkey’s Constitutional Court, has said he does not believe philanthropist Osman Kavala’s participation in the 2013 Gezi Park protests alone can be construed as a criminal act, the Euronews Turkish service reported on Friday.

Arslan’s opinion was made public in the written justification that the court released for an earlier decision on May 22 that Kavala’s right to freedom and security were not violated during his prosecution.

It was revealed that Arslan was one of five members of the court who opposed the decision. The ruling was adopted with the support of 10 other judges.

“While some segments of the society consider the events as a series of protests that were initially triggered by an environmental concern and turned into a mass criticism of government policies, others believe they were a foreign-supported attempt to overthrow the government that used the displaced trees as a pretext,” he said. “It is not the duty of the Constitutional Court to adopt one of these viewpoints.”

“It is not possible to regard the applicant’s participation in and support for the Gezi park protests as a sole indication of a crime since everyone has the right to peaceful protest.”

Arslan also stressed that no connection was proven between Kavala and the acts of violence that took place during the events.

The court’s justification, however, claimed that based on Kavala’s social status as well as national and international connections, he was “in a position to foresee the consequences of the events that culminated in violence” and that therefore there was sufficient suspicion to keep him in pre-trial detention.

The court also said that it is not always possible to present all the evidence of a strong criminal suspicion at the outset and that the lower court is better positioned to assess the situation.

“Another objective of pre-trial detentions is to proceed with the investigation in order to confirm or refute the suspicions on the individual. Therefore, it is not an absolute necessity to have gathered adequate evidence at the moment of arrest.”

The court made the ruling upon an application lodged by the lawyers for Kavala, who has been incarcerated for more than 19 months for his alleged role in the Gezi Park protests. He is accused of orchestrating and financing the events.

In March, an İstanbul prosecutor sought a life sentence for him, along with 15 others, accusing them of attempting to overthrow the government.

Human Rights Watch has said the indictment provided no evidence regarding the allegations.

The indictment echoed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who previously denounced Kavala’s alleged role in the protests, portraying him as the domestic financier and the Hungarian-American businessman George Soros as the foreign one.

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