A Turkish court acquitted leading businessman and rights defender Osman Kavala on Tuesday in a highly controversial trial over the anti-government Gezi Park protests of 2013, AFP reported.
The judge said there was “not enough concrete evidence” against Kavala and eight other suspects that appeared alongside him for the landmark verdict.
Kavala received loud cheers from the packed courtroom as he walked free.
He spent more than 800 days in pre-trial detention and became a symbol of what critics say is a crackdown on Turkey’s civil society under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in recent years.
Seven other defendants, who are fugitives, were not formally acquitted.
Prosecutors accused the group of 16 defendants, all leading civil society figures, of seeking to overthrow the government by orchestrating the mass protests that rocked the country in 2013.
The demonstrations began over plans to demolish Gezi Park — one of the only green spaces in Istanbul’s center — but quickly spiraled into broader protests against Erdoğan, then prime minister.
Erdoğan has called Kavala an agent of US financier George Soros, whose efforts to promote democracy around the world have made him a target for several authoritarian leaders.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled in December that Kavala should be immediately released, saying the 657-page indictment against him lacked “facts, information or evidence” to raise even the suspicion that he helped organize the protests, let alone attempted to overthrow the government.
“The bill of indictment … set out a conspiracy theory, devoid of ascertainable facts,” it said.
Kavala is chairman of the Anatolian Culture Foundation, which promotes human rights through art, including with neighboring Armenia, with which Turkey has no diplomatic ties.