Top court will overturn Gezi trial verdict if opposition unseats Erdoğan in next elections: Kavala

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Businessman and rights defender Osman Kavala has said that a recent court decision sentencing him to life in prison and his co-defendants to 18 years each on charges of instigating the anti-government Gezi Park protests would be overturned by Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals in the event the opposition parties unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the 2023 elections.

An İstanbul court on April 25 sentenced Kavala, who had been behind bars without a conviction for over four years, to aggravated life on charges of “attempting to topple the government” while sentencing seven other defendants to 18 years each on charges of aiding the attempt.

Answering questions from journalist Şirin Payzın from the Halk TV news website via his lawyers, Kavala on Friday said, when asked about whether he had any hope of release from prison, that he believed the Supreme Court of Appeals would overturn prison sentences handed down to him and his co-defendants if the administration changes after the elections.

“In the event that there is a change in power after the elections and the new government gives priority to establishing an independent judiciary working in accordance with universal norms, the way to freedom can be opened not only for those convicted in the Gezi trial but also for all our citizens who have been unlawfully arrested and convicted,” Kavala said.

Regarding his first reaction to the aggravated life sentence, Kavala said he had felt something akin to nausea due to “seeing evil without a veil over it” when he had heard the court’s verdict.

“Although I expected a sentence covering the period of [my] unlawful detention [for over four years] at the end of the trial, I didn’t expect this. I also didn’t expect my [co-defendants] to be severely punished and arrested,” Kavala said.

When asked about Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s recent claims that Western actors and international rights groups condemned Kavala’s sentencing because they “fund and make use of” him, Kavala said the minister had better question why his statements weren’t considered important by them instead of “resorting to conspiracy theories” about why some circles abroad care about him and his case.

“Those who criticize my arrest … abroad know that I am working for the good of my country, defending peace, democracy and human rights. A significant number of them are people who want to see Turkey as a rule of law country, a democracy, and are worried about it drifting away from Europe. Their reactions aren’t only about my loss of freedom, but about the open violation of legal norms in this judicial process,” Kavala added.

The Gezi Park demonstrations, which took place in the summer of 2013 in reaction to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s attempt to destroy one of the few green spaces left in İstanbul, quickly turned into a nationwide protest against the authoritarian policies of then-prime minister and current president Erdoğan.

Eleven protestors died and thousands more were injured as they were brutally suppressed by the police on Erdoğan’s instructions.

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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