Hakan Altınay, former secretary-general of the Open Society Foundation’s Turkey branch and one of the defendants in the Gezi Park trial, has denied accusations that he tried to overthrow the government by funding street protests on behalf of billionaire philanthropist George Soros.
In a recent interview with the T24 news website, Altınay, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison by a Turkish court, pointed out that after the 2013 Gezi protests, members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) continued to meet with Open Society Foundation representatives.
Altınay also claimed that the government afforded Soros VIP treatment when he visited Turkey in the early 2000s.
He also clarified that his tenure as secretary-general of the Open Society Foundation Turkey ended in 2009, making it “absurd” for him to be accused of trying to overthrow the government on behalf of Soros in 2013.
A spokesperson for the Open Society Foundation rejected accusations of involvement in the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Turkey in January.
In an interview with BBC’s Turkish service, the spokesperson denied that the foundation financed the protests and emphasized that it had been working within the law in Turkey for years.
The foundation ceased operations in Turkey in 2018, after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused Soros of seeking to “divide nations and shatter them.”
The spokesperson also referred to a series of meetings between Soros and Erdoğan, about which the presidency has declined to comment.
The foundation, which started operations in Turkey in 2001, had focused on supporting the country’s efforts to join the EU and on issues including education, women’s rights, discrimination and refugees.
The Gezi Park demonstrations in 2013 were a response to the government’s attempt to destroy one of the few green spaces left in İstanbul, which quickly turned into a nationwide protest against the authoritarian policies of then-prime minister and current president Erdoğan.
The outcome of the trial, in which Altınay and seven others were sentenced to various terms in prison and Osman Kavala to life imprisonment, has been criticized by opposition parties that accused the government of using the judiciary for revenge and questioned its independence.
The defense appealed the verdicts at Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals in March.