Turkish businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, who has been behind bars for more than three years on politically motivated charges, has expressed pessimism over a human rights action plan unveiled by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last week.
In an exclusive interview with Reuters, conducted through his lawyers, Kavala said after decades of watching Turkey’s judiciary seeking to restrict human rights, it was now engaged in “eliminating” perceived political opponents of Erdoğan’s government.
At a time when Turkey is the subject of harsh criticism due to gross human rights violations in the country, Erdoğan on March 2 announced a human rights action plan that led to widespread skepticism due to the government’s poor record on human rights. The president said the action plan would strengthen rights to a free trial and freedom of expression.
“As someone who has been subjected to worsening injustice for more than three years, and at the same time observed other political cases, I can’t be optimistic about the future of the relationship between politics and the judiciary,” Kavala said of the reforms.
Kavala, a well-known figure in Turkish civil society, has been jailed since October 2017. He faces a potential sentence of life in prison for allegedly trying to overthrow the government of President Erdoğan in a July 2016 coup attempt and also is charged with espionage.
Those charges were recently combined with a case surrounding his role in 2013 anti-government protests.
He was originally acquitted in the protest case, but the decision was overturned on appeal in January.
The European Court of Human Rights on December 10, 2019 found a violation upon reviewing Kavala’s application, calling for his immediate release. The judgment ruled that the evidence on which Kavala was detained for the Gezi protests and the 2016 coup attempt was insufficient and agreed that Kavala’s detention and the charges against him “pursued an ulterior purpose, namely, to silence him as a human rights defender.” Turkey, however, refused to abide by the ruling.
“Ever since I can remember, I have witnessed rights being restricted in Turkey through the judiciary,” Kavala said. “But giving the judiciary a key duty in eliminating political dissidents, and the judiciary taking this on, is new.”
Responding to Kavala’s claims, the Ministry of Justice said Turkey’s judiciary was independent.
Kavala said he now spends most of his time reading, watching concerts and film reruns. He has not been able to see his elderly mother and has missed friends’ funerals.
“It makes the injustice feel like persecution,” he said.