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HRW calls on Turkey to ‘end the Gezi trial injustice’

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An opinion by a prosecutor at Turkey’s top court of appeals asking the court to uphold the conviction of jailed rights defender Osman Kavala and his codefendants in the Gezi trial is completely devoid of legal reasoning and perpetuates a deep injustice, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.

The prosecutor’s opinion on the case currently before the Supreme Court of Appeals came 15 months after an İstanbul court convicted Kavala and seven others of attempting to overthrow the Turkish government for their alleged role in the 2013 Gezi Park protests, mass demonstrations that began over an urban development plan in central Istanbul and spread to other cities in Turkey.

Kavala, who had been behind bars without a conviction for over four years at the time, was given a life sentence, while the seven others were sentenced to 18 years each on charges of instigating the anti-government Gezi Park protests by an İstanbul court in April 2022.

The ruling sparked international condemnation as well as protests across Turkey for being politically motivated.

According to HRW, the prosecutor’s opinion disregards two binding judgments of the European Court of Human Rights ordering Kavala’s release and entirely discrediting the evidence presented in the trial, as well as the ongoing Council of Europe infringement process against Turkey over the case.

“The Gezi trial is a mockery of justice and exemplifies Turkey’s rule of law and human rights crisis,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The gross misuse of criminal charges and prolonged detention to hound perceived critics of the Erdoğan government has become the number one form of political persecution in Turkey today.”

The July 7, 2023 opinion by Supreme Court of Appeals deputy chief prosecutor Zafer Şahin recommends that the court’s 3rd Criminal Chamber uphold Kavala’s April 25, 2022 conviction by the Istanbul 13th Assize Court and a sentence of life imprisonment without parole.

The opinion also recommends upholding 18-year sentences for Can Atalay, a lawyer and elected member of parliament; Tayfun Kahraman, a city planner and academic; Çiğdem Mater, a filmmaker; Mine Özerden, a rights defender; Hakan Altınay, an educator; and Yiğit Ekmekçi, businessman and university founder. It recommends reversing the 18-year sentence for architect Mücella Yapıcı.

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