Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan has said that a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for the release of businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala no longer applies after he was jailed for life this week over anti-government protests in 2013, local media reported on Thursday.
After being detained without a conviction for more than four years, Kavala was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole earlier this week on charges of “attempting to topple the government” for organizing and financing nationwide protests in 2013, while his seven co-defendants were handed down sentences of 18 years each on charges of aiding the attempt.
“The ECtHR has no job here anymore, it’s done. It’s because he was convicted here. … The ECtHR will look at it [the case] but say he was convicted and take this issue off the table. … Everyone, local and foreign, has to respect this decision made by the Turkish judiciary,” Erdoğan told reporters at an İstanbul airport before leaving on a trip to Saudi Arabia on Thursday.
The ECtHR, the best-known body of the Council of Europe (CoE) rights watchdog from which Turkey could now be suspended due to Kavala’s continued imprisonment, and Ankara’s Western allies had called for an end to the philanthropist’s detention, saying the case was politically motivated.
Turkey has refused to release Kavala despite a binding judgment of the ECtHR in December 2019 finding that his detention for allegedly directing and financing the Gezi Park protests of 2013 and for alleged involvement in the failed coup of July 2016 was in pursuance of an “ulterior motive,” that of silencing him as a human rights defender.
Rights activists say the court rushed to a verdict to circumvent the ECtHR ruling after the CoE launched “infringement proceedings” against Ankara in early February.
The top European human rights reviewing body will decide whether Turkey failed to abide by its ruling as the next step in the process.
Critics say Turkish courts are under the influence of Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, claims they deny.
“Our judiciary has proved their independence by not caving to blackmail by those outside Turkey and their spokespeople,” the Turkish president said on Wednesday regarding the decision in the Gezi Park trial.
Reuters on Thursday quoted Benan Molu, a human rights lawyer, as saying the ECtHR ruling meant Kavala could not be convicted based on the evidence in the file, given that no new evidence was added since the time of the application.
“For the ECtHR ruling to be implemented and the violation to be fully lifted for the CoE, all the negative impacts of the detention need to be removed. … Ideas such as ‘we handed down the sentence, this court ruling does not concern us anymore’ wouldn’t be accepted in the context of international law,” Molu said, adding that the ruling could be appealed in various higher courts.
Opposition parties have vowed to overturn the jail sentences if they win power in elections scheduled for next year.
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. His 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.