The president of the Open Society Foundations on Friday urged Turkey to release prominent businessman and civil society leader Osman Kavala after a top court’s decision to uphold his and four others’ conviction in the Gezi Park trial, describing their continued detention as “a travesty of the rule of law” and “a stain” on Turkey’s international reputation.
The Supreme Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld a life sentence for Kavala and 18-year prison sentences for human rights lawyer and Workers Party of Turkey (TİP) lawmaker Can Atalay, journalist and film producer Çiğdem Mater, city planner Tayfun Kahraman and filmmaker Mine Özerden.
The court also overturned the convictions of three other defendants in the trial, ordering them to be retried.
“The continued detention of Osman Kavala and the four other defendants remains a travesty of the rule of law, in a vindictive process aimed at silencing independent Turkish civil society voices. The resulting stain on Turkey’s international reputation will only be removed when they are released,” Mark Malloch-Brown, president of the Open Society Foundations, said in a statement on Friday.
The Gezi Park trial defendants were convicted of attempting to overthrow the Turkish government for their alleged role in the protests, which began over an urban development plan in central İstanbul and spread to other cities in Turkey.
The ruling sparked international condemnation as well as protests across Turkey for being politically motivated.
A leading figure in Turkey’s civil society, 66-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 the government of then-prime minister and current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during the large-scale protests in 2013 and involvement in a failed military coup in 2016.
Erdoğan has made no secret of his dislike of Kavala, branding him the “red Soros of Turkey” because he also headed US philanthropist George Soros’s Open Society Foundation in Turkey.
Kavala’s plight had soured relations between Ankara and Western nations, and a diplomatic crisis was triggered in 2021 when Turkey threatened to expel 10 Western ambassadors, including the US envoy, after they demanded Kavala’s release.
Turkey has refused to release Kavala despite a 2019 European Court of Human Rights ruling that found his detention was in pursuance of an “ulterior motive,” that of silencing him as a human rights defender. The non-implementation of the ruling prompted the CoE Committee of Ministers to launch an infringement procedure against Turkey in February 2022, which is still ongoing.