‘They would’ve hanged me if they could’ Kavala says about his conviction

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Businessman and rights defender Osman Kavala has said in his first statement after a recent verdict sentencing him to life in prison that he “would’ve been hanged” if the government had been able to do it, the ANKA news agency reported on Wednesday, citing an opposition lawmaker.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) parliamentary group deputy chairman Özgür Özel, along with other CHP lawmakers Turan Aydoğan, Candan Yüceer and Gökan Zeybek, visited Kavala and other defendants  of the Gezi Park trial in Silivri Prison in İstanbul on Wednesday.

Seven others defendants in the trial were given 18 years each on charges of instigating the anti-government Gezi Park protests.

Speaking to reporters following the visit, Özel quoted Kavala as saying, “I wasn’t expecting them to acquit me after keeping me [jailed] for this long. But I didn’t expect this, either. … If they had had a rope, they would’ve hanged me.”

Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004 as a part of reforms to facilitate Turkey’s accession to the European Union, although the death penalty has not been used since 1984.

Kavala said although the dissenting opinion expressed by one of the three judges was “valuable,” the verdict of the court rejected all European laws, undermined Turkey’s defense before the European Court of Human Rights [ECtHR] and destroyed the country’s reputation.

Lawyer Can Atalay, one of the seven defendants sentenced to 18 years and arrested as a result of the decision in the Gezi Park trial, also told Özel that it’s important to underline that one of the judges was a former parliamentary candidate from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), ANKA said.

“We’re in high spirits because we’re sure we’re innocent. A former parliamentary candidate [for the AKP] sent us to Silivri,” Özel quoted Atalay as saying.

The CHP lawmaker also said he conveyed greetings to Hakan Altınay, another of the seven defendants who is the Global Civics Academy president and Boğaziçi University European School of Politics director, from thousands of his university students, according to ANKA.

Özel quoted Altınay as questioning the Turkish government’s motives for such a conviction and expressing that Turkey, a country that has difficulty making friends in the international community, had lost most of them during the course of the trial.

Özel said Kavala and the others were especially pleased to hear the latest comments of Ahmet Necdet Sezer, Turkey’s 10th president, who was in office between 2000 and 2007, and 11th president Abdullah Gül, who served until 2014, on the Gezi Park trial verdict.

Gül on Tuesday said that the verdict was “shameful” and “hurt the public conscience deeply.”

According to ANKA, Sezer also recently told Özel over the phone that he was sad about the Gezi trial verdict, the situation of the families of the defendants and Turkey, where “the judicial system was slaughtered.”

Addressing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is expected to run for office again in the next elections, the CHP deputy said: “The people of this country will not elect someone who does not understand Gezi [Park protests] and Generation Z, has no environmental awareness, doesn’t resist the destruction of nature and doesn’t object to urban crimes as the 13th president.”

The protests in 2013 erupted over government plans to demolish Gezi Park in Taksim. They quickly turned into mass anti-government demonstrations that were violently suppressed by the government, leading to the death of 11 protestors due to the use of disproportionate force by the police.

A leading figure in Turkey’s civil society, 64-year-old Kavala was born in Paris, educated in the UK and ran a cultural center before being thrust to prominence. He was accused of financing protests against then-prime minister Erdoğan’s government during large-scale protests in 2013 and involvement in a failed military coup in 2016. The latest ruling only covered the case stemming from the 2013 unrest.

Kavala’s plight had soured relations between Ankara and Western nations, and a diplomatic crisis was triggered last year when Turkey threatened to expel 10 Western ambassadors, including the US envoy, after they demanded Kavala’s release.

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