Turkey defies pressure to keep businessman Kavala in jail

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A Turkish court on Friday kept civil society leader Osman Kavala in jail despite Western pressure and the risk the case could further harm Ankara’s relations with Europe, Agence France-Presse reported.

The hearing in İstanbul was the first since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to expel 10 Western ambassadors who called for Kavala’s release.

It also came as Erdoğan is facing one of the toughest economic tests of his rule since 2003 and the Turkish lira tumbles to record lows against the dollar.

The 64-year-old civil society leader and businessman, who has been kept in jail without conviction for more than four years, is accused of financing 2013 anti-government protests and playing a role in the 2016 coup attempt.

If convicted, he could be jailed for life without the possibility of parole.

Western diplomats, including from countries whose envoys had been threatened with expulsion, were in court, as well as several opposition lawmakers.

The next hearing is scheduled for January 17.

The philanthropist has become a symbol for his supporters of the sweeping crackdown Erdoğan unleashed after the failed coup.

Kavala, who denies the charges, snubbed the hearing on Friday after his case sparked a diplomatic standoff last month when the 10 embassies — including the US, France and Germany — said in a highly unusual declaration that his continued detention “cast a shadow” over Turkey’s democracy and judicial system.

Erdoğan accused the diplomats of trying to “teach a lesson” to Turkey and threatened to expel them.

‘Unfortunate’

Kavala’s case could prompt the Council of Europe human rights watchdog to launch its first disciplinary hearings against Turkey at a four-day meeting beginning on Tuesday — a procedure that has only been used once before in the court’s history.

The watchdog has issued a final warning to Turkey to comply with a 2019 European Court of Human Rights order to release Kavala pending trial.

“It’s unfortunate,” a Western diplomat told AFP of the court ruling.

“I don’t know what (the government) is thinking but (Turkey’s non-conformity) will have consequences,” the diplomat said speaking on condition of anonymity.

One of Kavala’s lawyers, Köksal Bayraktar, told the court Turkey’s disrespect of the European court verdict was “against the constitution” and amounted to a “constitutional crime.”

This action “will not only bring harm at the Council of Europe level, but will further complicate Turkey’s relations with the West,” he said.

The threatened expulsion spat was resolved after the US and several of the other countries issued statements saying they respected the UN convention requiring diplomats not to interfere in a host country’s domestic affairs.

‘Attack on human dignity’

Erdoğan has often compared Kavala to Hungarian-born US financier George Soros and called him “Soros leftover” in October, which drew sharp rebuke from the Paris-born philanthropist.

“The president’s insulting and defamatory statements against a person who is not convicted and whose trial is ongoing constitutes an attack on human dignity,” Kavala said in a statement.

Kavala, who previously attended the hearings in Istanbul’s main court via video-link from his cell in Silivri on the city’s outskirts, said he had lost faith in a fair trial.

In an interview with AFP this month, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin refused to speculate on the outcome of the infringement procedures.

“I hope they (the Council of Europe) take all the facts into consideration and respect rule of law in this country… when they make a decision,” he said.

Speaking to AFP from his jail cell last month, Kavala said he felt like a tool in Erdoğan’s attempts to blame a foreign plot for domestic opposition to his nearly two-decade rule.

“I think the real reason behind my continued detention is that it addresses the need of the government to keep alive the fiction that the (2013) Gezi protests were the result of a foreign conspiracy,” Kavala said.

He was acquitted of the Gezi charges in February 2020, only to be re-arrested before he could return home and thrown back in jail over alleged links to the coup plot.

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