Court orders continued detention of activist Kavala at first hearing of joint trial

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An İstanbul court ruled to keep prominent businessman and rights activist Osman Kavala in jail at the start of a new trial of 52 defendants that merged the cases of a 2016 attempted coup, the 2013 Gezi Park protests and the Çarşı fan club, local media reported on Friday.

The court ruled for a continuation of the imprisonment of Kavala, who has been behind bars for 1,438 days on what many say are politically motivated charges, citing a “strong suspicion of crime.” The next hearing is scheduled for Nov. 26.

Kavala and eight others accused of organizing the Gezi Park protests, which were sparked in opposition to government plans to redevelop Gezi Park in İstanbul’s Taksim neighborhood in May 2013 and quickly turned into nationwide anti-government protests, were acquitted of all charges in February 2020, but an appeals court overturned the verdict in January.

Kavala is also accused of involvement in a 2016 coup attempt, and those charges were combined with the Gezi case in February.

On July 28 Kavala’s case was also merged with the trial of the Çarşı group, the left-leaning supporters of Turkish football club Beşiktaş who were at the forefront of the Gezi protests, after an appeals court also overturned the verdict of acquittal for the 35 defendants in the case, who are charged with attempting to overthrow the government, in April 2021.

At Friday’s hearing Kavala’s lawyer, Köksal Bayraktar, among others, requested the separation of the Gezi Park and Çarşı trials, arguing that they are “completely unrelated” and that it’s unlawful for a judge to both request and approve a decision to merge cases.

However, the court rejected the lawyers’ objection and all requests for a separation of the two cases, prompting the Çarşı case defendants’ lawyers to walk out of courtroom in protest, according to local media reports.

Among those who monitored the hearing at the Çağlayan Courthouse in İstanbul were European Parliament Standing Rapporteur for Turkey Nacho Sánchez Amor, Milena Büyüm, Amnesty International’s Turkey campaigner, and Hélène Bourdieu, who works as a policy officer in the Turkey unit of the European Commission Directorate-General for Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR), in addition to diplomats from the US, Sweden, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and the UK.

“Charges that were previously judged to be factually and legally unrelated were joined without any fresh evidence, and the lawsuits against me were joined with the Çarşı case, again without any new evidence,” Kavala said on Friday in his defense statement.

“What is striking about the charges brought against me is not merely the fact that they are not based on any evidence. They are allegations of a fantastic nature based on conspiracy theories overstepping the bounds of reason,” he added.

Büyüm tweeted that the continuation of Kavala’s imprisonment on a majority decision was “shameful” and based on “generic, baseless arguments” exposed by the activist’s lawyer.

“Sadly it was another missed opportunity for Turkish authorities to respect their international commitments,” Amor said, referring to the result of Friday’s hearing, using the hashtag #OsmanKavalayaÖzgürlük (Freedom for Osman Kavala).

The European Court of Human Rights ruled in December 2019 that the prolonged pretrial detention of Kavala, director of the Turkish cultural foundation Anadolu Kültür, was in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and ordered his immediate release. But Turkey has not abided the ruling despite repeated calls by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

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