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Rights groups urge Turkey to release philanthropist jailed for ‘espionage’

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Several rights groups have urged Turkey to immediately release Osman Kavala, a philanthropist and businessman jailed on espionage charges, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday.

A statement from the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project and HRW came after a hearing held by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers to review the execution of a European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruling in Kavala’s case.

The committee ordered the Turkish authorities “to ensure the applicant’s immediate release,” pointing to “a strong presumption that his current detention is a continuation of the violations found by the Court.”

Kavala has been held in detention since November 2017, initially on allegations that he used the 2013 Istanbul Gezi Park protests to attempt to overthrow the government, and then that he was involved in a July 15, 2016 attempted military coup. On February 18, 2020, the court presiding over the case acquitted Kavala and his eight co-defendants of charges of “attempting to overthrow the government by force and violence” in the Gezi Park trial.

However, the acquittal did not result in Kavala’s release as another court
immediately ordered his detention. The new detention order was issued as part of an ongoing July 2016 coup attempt-related investigation into him.

On July 15, 2016 Turkey had experienced a botched coup bid as a group of soldiers attempted a takeover with tanks rolling onto the streets of Ankara and İstanbul and soldiers blocking the Bosporus and Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridges. As the coup was underway, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blamed the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, and launched a crackdown on dissent, which saw the arrest of tens of thousands, prompting an exodus of victims to Europe.

Erdoğan had publicly criticized Kavala’s acquittal before the new detention order. Weeks later, a second detention order was issued on the charge of “espionage,” relying on the same evidence.

Kavala’s legal team is currently challenging the lawfulness of the detention before Turkey’s Constitutional Court.

In June HRW, the ICJ, and the Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project submitted a detailed application to the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers. The groups outlined how Turkey continues to violate Kavala’s rights by flouting a landmark judgment that became final on May 11, requiring his immediate release.

“The targeted harassment in Turkey of rights defenders is part of a wider practice of arbitrary detentions and abusive prosecutions of journalists, elected politicians, lawyers, and other perceived government critics. This practice has been well-documented in many reports by the Council of Europe, the European Union, and human rights organizations,” the HRW statement reads.

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