The delegation of the European Union to the Council of Europe issued a statement on Wednesday calling on Turkey to release Osman Kavala, a prominent Turkish businessman who was jailed on terrorism charges for his alleged role in the 2013 Gezi Park protests.
Kavala is among the 16 civil society representatives who are accused of attempting to overthrow the government by organizing the protests.
During a hearing on June 25, Yiğit Aksakoğlu, one of the defendants, was released pending trial, leaving Kavala as the only defendant who is still in pre-trial detention.
“The court’s decision to release Yiğit Aksakoğlu pending trial is positive news,” the statement read. “However, the EU calls for the release without delay also of Osman Kavala for the remaining period of his trial, and notes that use of prolonged pre-trial detention can undermine the principle of presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial of the defendant.”
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has called Kavala the “Turkish Soros,” referring to American-Hungarian businessman George Soros, who is usually accused of orchestrating mass protests in ex-Soviet republics.
“As the European Union has repeatedly said, the decision to indict peaceful participants of the 2013 Gezi Park protests and to seek life sentences is a source of concern. It also, together with the attempts to portray the protests as a foreign plot, contributes to creating a climate of fear and to discourage the right to peaceful assembly,” the statement said.
“Having attended the opening of the trial, the EU will continue to closely monitor this case as well as trials against journalists, members of parliament, human rights defenders, lawyers and academics with the highest level of scrutiny,” it added.
Turkey has been a candidate for EU membership for decades, but the accession talks have stalled due to President Erdoğan’s increasing authoritarian grip on politics.