904 days in prison: Free the political hostage Osman Kavala

Norwegian PEN President calls for Turkish civil society leader Kavala to be released from 904 days’ detention.
Den tyrkiske filantropen og aktivisten Osman Kavala ble arrestert 1. november 2017. Foto: Bianet

As of today, the civil society leader Osman Kavala has been in prison, in pre-trial detention for 904 days. Although he was acquitted of the fantastic charges in the Gezi case on February 19th 2020, he was rearrested that night and remains in prison in Silivri, Istanbul. The prosecutor of the Republic is now preparing a new indictment for a case against Kavala on espionage charges. The prosecutor is trying to infer that the Open Society Foundation grants to Turkey were used by Kavala to use overseas finance an attempt to destroy the Turkish constitutional order The Prosecutor for the Republic took over 1.5 years to prepare the indictment in the Gezi trial. To all the independent observers, public, lawyers, indeed anyone who followed the Gezi case it is clear that there is no justifiable legal reasoning behind any of the charges against Kavala. He is being held as a political hostage by the current regime. The European Court ruled strongly on December 10th, 2019, while Kavala was a defendant in the Gezi trial, that his incarceration was both politically motivated and a clear infringement of his rights to liberty and security and hist right to a fair trial.

Norwegian PEN monitored all 6 public hearings of the Gezi trial in Silivri prison in 2019 and 2020.

We call upon the government of Turkey to drop this charade and to uphold the rule of law.  Osman Kavala must be released immediately. His pretrial detention is illegal, unjustified and in light of the current threats to prisoners posed by the COVID-19 virus, is a danger to his health. Kavala is a civil society leader whose foundation has enabled hundreds of art and literature projects to be realised, forging artistic friendships between Turkey and Europe. The nationalist element in Turkey’s government seem to see any cooperation with Europe as suspicious, and yet Turkey’s judicial system itself benefits from European Commission grants for training in human rights and other areas.

Kavala must be freed forthwith and compensated for the 904 days stolen from him. We will continue to monitor the current bogus case against him and will study the forthcoming indictment very closely. The fact that there are so few media sources that are able to hold the government to account goes to show the press freedom is still a critical concern in Turkey. We call for the restoration of the rule of law and for press freedom in Turkey and for the release on bail of all political prisoners during the current pandemic. Free Osman Kavala.

What can you do? Write to Osman with a few words of support: 

Osman Kavala
Silivri Kapalı Ceza İnfaz Kurumu
9 No’lu Cezaevi, A-7 / C 59
34570, Silivri/Istanbul
TURKEY

Please only include words of support for Kavala in your letter, as political messages are usually censored by the prison.

Read more about Osman Kavala on the campaign site

Turkey: cruel new charges against Osman Kavala must be dropped

Silivri Prison in fog. Photo Norsk PEN

Norwegian PEN, PEN International and ARTICLE 19 condemn the cruel decision to open a new criminal investigation against civil society leader and publisher Osman Kavala, immediately after his acquittal in the ‘Gezi Park’ trial yesterday. The European Court of Human Rights has previously found that his 928-day arbitrary detention violated his right to freedom of expression. The new charges against Kavala should be immediately dropped and the Turkish authorities must cease the harassment of civil society.

Just hours after his acquittal yesterday in the ‘Gezi Park’ case, the Public Prosecutor announced that they were appealing the acquittal and opening a new investigation against Osman Kavala for ‘attempting to overthrow the constitutional order through violence and force’ under Article 309 of the Turkish Penal Code in connection with the 2016 coup attempt. Kavala was reportedly taken to police detention immediately upon release from prison last night. He is due to stand before a judge today, who will decide on whether he should be placed in pre-trial detention on the new charges.

Hege Newth, Secretary General at Norwegian PEN, said:

‘Norwegian PEN are thoroughly disgusted by the dirty tactic of immediately re-arresting an innocent man who was already deprived of his freedom for so long. It is obvious to those who follow events in Turkey that there is no connection whatsoever between the constitutionally-permitted protests of Gezi Park and the attempted-coup of July 2016.’

Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International, said:

‘The latest turn of events could not be more painful. Re-arresting Osman Kavala hours after his acquittal is a cruel and callous move. Kavala should be home with his friends and family yet, after two and a half years, he still languishes behind bars. The Turkish authorities must end their pervasive crackdown on media freedom, civil society and dissenting voices once and for all. The PEN community continues to stand with Kavala and forcefully calls for his immediate and unconditional release.’

David Diaz-Jogeix, Senior Director of Programmes at ARTICLE 19 said:

‘Acquitting Kavala only to re-arrest him hours later is cruel and arbitrary. This is a pattern of behaviour we are beginning to see with the Turkish authorities: Ahmet Altan, Selahattin Demirtaş, Atilla Taş, Murat Aksoy are just some of the other individuals who have been targeted by this malicious behaviour on the part of the authorities. Hiding behind legal technicalities to avoid implementing judgments from the European Court of Human Rights cannot mask that this is essentially judicial harassment aimed at intimidating the individuals involved, and society at large, into silence.”

Acquittals in Gezi Park trial fail to restore faith in Turkish justice system

Nine defendants were acquitted in the ‘Gezi Park’ trial yesterday in Istanbul, while the cases of the seven defendants residing outside Turkey were separated from the case file. The judgment, while welcome, did not reflect an assessment of the evidence presented in the indictment or during the trial and came after lengthy proceedings and lengthy pretrial detention of Kavala and Yığıt Aksakoğlu (who was also held in pre-trial detention for seven months), which were manifestly designed to silence the defendants and civil society at large. The result therefore failed to restore confidence in the independence and impartiality of the Turkish judiciary.

Court observers who monitored the eight hearings of the trial, including Norwegian PEN, noted the lack of adherence to court procedure and the Turkish penal code itself, in a trial instigated on the basis of a 657-page indictment that was disturbingly devoid of any clear statement of facts or evidence of a crime. The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales, which observed the trial with the support of ARTICLE 19, characterized the trial as a “meritless prosecution that has little to do with ordinary and proper trial procedures”. In its judgment of 10 December 2019 in the Kavala case, the European Court of Human Rights noted that the activities listed as evidence refer to the “ordinary and legitimate activities on the part of a human rights defender and the leader of an NGO”. Two police witnesses heard during the trial had not been able identify the defendants as having participated in Gezi protests at all.

At the final hearing yesterday, defence lawyers at one point had to form a human shield around a colleague to prevent him being taken out of the courtroom by military force. This had followed the judge’s demand that the defendants make their final statements before the lawyers had called any of their witnesses or expounded their legal arguments.

When order was restored to the room, the judicial panel returned to read out the final verdict in the case. This was to acquit all nine defendants present, to release Kavala from detention and to separate the case file of those defendants abroad and request that they return to Turkey to stand trial.

The defendants had been tried on charges of attempting to overthrow the government of Turkey by force and violence during the spontaneous Gezi protests that erupted in the country in 2013. Last week, the prosecutor in the case requested aggravated life imprisonment for defendants Osman Kavala, Mucella Yapıcı and Yığıt Aksakoğlu for ‘attempting to overthrow the government through violence and force’. He also requested that Çiğdem Mater Utku, Ali Hakan Altınay, Mine Özerden, Şerafettin Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman and Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi be convicted as ‘persons who assisted the commission of the offence’. Finally, he demanded that those defendants in exile outside Turkey return to face trial.

While welcome, the acquittals came as a surprise given that the judicial panel had not allowed any of the demands of the defence lawyers but had acceded to all those of the prosecution. Moreover, they appeared to have disregarded the European Court of Human Rights’ decision of December 2019 that demanded Osman Kavala’s immediate release from prison.

Previously, at the second hearing, the defence lawyers stated that it was not just the rights of assembly and demonstration that were on trial but the Turkish legal system itself. Although the defendants were acquitted, the reputation of the Turkish legal system has been further damaged due to the evident illegitimacy of the case itself.

We repeat our call for the Turkish authorities to immediately drop all charges against Osman Kavala and to cease the harassment of civil society.

Alle 16 i Gezi park-rettssaken frikjent

– Vi har nettopp vært vitne til en helt enestående opplevelse, sier Norsk PENs generalsekretær Hege Newth.
Norsk PENs generalsekretær Hege Newth var til stede i rettssalen tilknyttet Silivri-fengselet utenfor Istanbul i dag. Foto: Norsk PEN/Caroline Stockford.

Filantropen Osman Kavala og de 15 andre tiltalte i den såkalte Gezi park-rettssaken har alle blitt løslatt og frikjent.

Det ble klart under sjette høring i Silivri-fengselet utenfor Istanbul i dag.

– Vi har nettopp vært vitne til en helt enestående opplevelse. Stemningen er ekstatisk, folk er overrasket og nesten sjokkert. Dette hadde vi ikke forventet i morges, sier generalsekretær i Norsk PEN, Hege Newth, som har vært til stede i rettssalen i dag.

Norsk PEN har observert alle høringene i saken. Det var knyttet stor spenning til hva som ville skje i dag.

I mars trår nemlig dommen fra Den europeiske menneskerettighetsdomstolen (ECtHR) i kraft. Dommen i saken «Kavala v Turkey» slår fast at grunnlaget for siktelsen er for svakt til å forsvare den langvarige varetektsfengslingen av Osman Kavala.

Frikjenningen av de tiltalte i dag er likevel ikke nok til å friskmelde det tyrkiske rettsvesenet helt ennå.

– Hele denne saken har vært urettferdig fra dag én. Vi må ikke glemme at Osman Kavala har sittet 928 dager bak lås og slå for noe han absolutt ikke har gjort, sier Newth.

– Dette er ikke en gledens dag for tyrkisk rettsvesen, men det er en stor dag for Kavala og alle hans medtiltalte. Dette er ikke en gledens dag for tyrkisk rettsvesen, men det er en stor dag for Kavala og alle hans medtiltalte. De har ikke gjort noe galt, og fortjener full frifinnelse i saken, sier Newth.

Se video av Newth utenfor rettssalen på vår Facebook-side.

For ytterligere kommentarer:

Hege Newth, generalsekretær (i Tyrkia): +47 930 02 262

Lawyers walk out of 6th Gezi hearing

Over 40 lawyers comprising the legal teams for all 16 defendants in the Gezi Park trial in Istanbul on 28 January, walked out of the court and demanded that all three judges be replaced.
Court drawing of Osman Kavala during the 5th hearing in the Gezi Park trial. Illustration: Zeynep Özatalay

By: Caroline Stockford, Turkey advisor for Norwegian PEN

Norwegian PEN observed the 6th hearing in the trial in which sixteen civil society actors and figures who initially protested the illegal road through Istanbul’s Gezi park are alleged of attempting to overthrow the government with ‘force and violence’.

Although the charges, of having organised the country-wide, spontaneous protests in 2013 by using foreign funding, are the same for all 16 defendants, only Osman Kavala is being held in pretrial detention.

Kavala has been in prison in Silivri since November 2017. On 10 December, 2019 the European Court of Human Rights ruled on his application and declared violations to his rights to liberty and security and to his right to a fair trial. The Court went further, declaring that Kavala’s detention was politically motivated, and ruled for his immediate release.

In the hearing observed by Norwegian PEN on 24 December the court defied the ECtHR ruling, saying that it was unsure whether such a ruling was final.

Lawyers walk out

In the hearing this week on 28 January, the court once again ignored the ruling and sent Osman Kavala back to his cell.  Kavala’s lawyer, Ilkan Koyncu said he fears the court will now try to speedily convict Kavala before the ECtHR ruling passes out of the appeal period of 3 months. ‘The court no longer has its sights on justice or the law,’ he told Bianet news 29 Jan, ‘It is seeking to reach its decision on the case before the 10th of March when the ECtHR ruling moves to its implementation stage.’

During the hearing on 28 January the lawyers walked out in protest at the judges decision to hold the 5th hearing of the case in secret. The lawyers protested the fact that lead plantiff Murat Pabuç was cross-examined by the judges with the Prosecutor present, and yet the lawyers and defendants were both denied access to the hearing in person and by audio visual relay. The judges claimed that, as lead plantiff, Pabuç’s ‘life was in danger.’ The legal defence teams took this to mean that the judges implied a threat to his life from the lawyers themselves. They declared the private interrogation a violation of the ‘equality of arms’ and also inadmissable as evidence in the trial. They petitioned the judge for the removal of this evidence and, when this was rejected, they declared a lack of confidence in the judicial panel and walked out of the room in protest.

Public gallery emptied by soldiers

Their walk-out was greeted with applause by the public gallery of some 300 persons. This turned to booing at the judges and the military police, whose presence always dominates these hearings were ordered to clear the public gallery.

MP ejected from courtroom

The trial went on with only a handful of CHP and HDP politicians observing along with approximately 50 international observers, diplomats and members of the press.  The judge attempted to cross examine Osman Kavala in the absence of his lawyers and this was challenged by CHP MP Sezgin Tanrıkulu who is also head of the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee.  Mr Tanrıkulu was then ordered from the room by the judge, something which is not allowed due to the immunity of members of parliament.

The judges has lost control of the room and, one could say, were never in charge of the trial as it is suspected that heavy political pressure is being put upon them by Turkey’s administration to secure a conviction of the defendants.

Why Kavala?

This trial comes 9 years after the Gezi protests which were a spontaneous civil outburst against the building of an illegal road in one of the few remaining green spaces in Istanbul. The protests spread across the country and involved over 3 million people. Many of the protests were against the excessive use of police violence. Six people died during the Gezi protests and police were accused of firing tear gas cannisters directly at people’s heads.

It is thought that the uprising of everyday citizens at the time of Gezi seriously alarmed Turkey’s authoritarian government. This trial is seen as a move by the government not only to punish the activist and civil society leader Kavala, but to criminalise the constitutional rights of assembly and demonstration themselves. After closing 53 newspapers in 2017 and criminalising hundreds of journalists the state has moved on from the media to civil society itself.

Outrage of addition of murderer to list of plaintiffs

The most outrageous recent development in the Gezi hearing was the addition to the long list of plaintiffs of ex-policeman Mevlüt Saldoğan who was convicted of the murder of 22 year old Ali Ismail Korkmaz during the Gezi protests in 2013.  Saldoğan is claiming that his family life and career were damaged due to his 13 year conviction for murder. He was released from detention after serving 2 years. He is further claiming injury to his feet after beating and kicking the young Eskişehir student to death in 2013. The mother of Ali Ismail Korkmaz had travelled from Antakya to be at the hearing and was heard to twice shout, “I am Ali Ismail’s mother!’ during the hearing. The judge replied, ‘I understand your pain. But this policeman was also beaten with sticks and stones.’

In the early afternoon on 28 January 2020 the lead judge read out his interim decision, denying all of the requests of the defence lawyers in relation to all clients and ruling for the continuing detention of Osman Kavala, an innocent man who has already spent 27 months in solitary confinement in Turkey’s biggest prison.

The next hearing is set for 18 February. It is not clear whether the judicial panel will be replaced or if the defence lawyers will attend. What is clear is that the rule of law, as well as European law, is being constantly and deliberately flouted by Turkey. The fault in theory is not the Turkish judicial system or the laws themselves. The Turkish constitution is robust and declares that the European Convention on Human Rights takes precedence over all domestic law. The problem here is a singular one. It is one man, bent on revenge, by whose hand all members of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors are chosen.

The solution, is concerted and serious pressure by European states on Turkey to release Kavala and the urgent intervention by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe. The reputation of the European Court is being directly threatened by Erdoğan. The Vice Presidency of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has just been handed to Russia’s Pyotr Tolstoy.  Don’t the other states have anything to say?

Julehygge? Ikke for Tyrkia-rådgiver Caroline Stockford

Den 24. og 25. desember går fjerde rettshøring i Gezi park-saken mot Osman Kavala og 15 andre tiltalte ved Silivri-fengselet utenfor Istanbul. Norsk PEN vil være til stede.
Caroline Stockford under forrige høring i Gezi park-rettssaken i Istanbul i oktober. Foto: Katarina Goldfain Johnsen

Det blir ingen hvit jul for Norsk PENs Tyrkia-rådgiver Caroline Stockford. Hun skal bruke høytiden i rettssalen knyttet til Silivri-fengselet utenfor Istanbul, som støtte for den tiltalte filantropen Osman Kavala.

– En mann som har bidratt enormt til det tyrkiske sivilsamfunnet, står tiltalt for absurde anklager i en rettssak uten reelle beviser. Det er viktig å være til stede, for å vise at det internasjonale samfunnet følger med og bryr seg, sier Stockford.

– Føyer seg inn i en tyrkisk tradisjon

Norsk PEN har vært til stede på de tre høringene i saken gjennom sommeren og høsten. Også når den neste høringen legges til høytiden, er det viktig for oss å være til stede.

– Dette føyer seg inn i en tradisjon fra Tyrkia de seneste årene. Høringer i de mest profilerte sakene legges stadig til perioder hvor de vet at internasjonale observatører sjelden kan være til stede. Derfor er det ikke overraskende at neste steg i saken mot Kavala er lagt til 24. og 25. desember, sier generalsekretær Hege Newth i Norsk PEN.

Generalsekretær i Norsk PEN, Hege Newth. Foto: Kine Jensen

Årsaken til at Norsk PEN har engasjert seg for Osman Kavalas sak, er fordi han som en av Tyrkias største filantroper har støttet utallige kunst- og kulturprosjekter i landet.

– Osman Kavala har hatt stor betydning for det tyrkiske kulturlivet gjennom sine bidrag til den frie kunsten, som er avhengig av ikke-statlig finansiering. En lang rekke språk-, litteratur- og samarbeidsprosjekter mellom ulike folkegrupper ville ikke blitt til uten Kavalas bidrag. Derfor er dette en viktig sak for oss å følge, sier Newth.

Forventer løslatelse

Forretningsmannen Kavalas engasjement for kulturen startet da han opprettet et forlag som skulle bidra til positive endringer etter militærkuppet i 1980. Siden 1990-tallet har han gått ut av den daglige driften i Kavala Group og dedikert seg til arbeidet for tyrkisk sivilsamfunn.

Demonstrasjonene for tre år siden startet med motstand mot et planlagt kjøpesenter i en av Istanbuls siste grønne lunger – Gezi park – og bredte seg ut til generelle protester med millioner av deltakere over hele Tyrkia.

16 personer fra tyrkisk akademia, medie-, kultur- og samfunnsliv er tiltalt for å ha planlagt landsomfattende protester i 2016. Ifølge anklagen skal de ha finansiert og forsøkt å iverksette et statskupp. Den mest kjente av de tiltalte er Osman Kavala, forretningsmannen som har dedikert livet sitt til tyrkisk kultur- og samfunnsliv.

Rettssaken mot de 16 tiltalte nå er en av de mest graverende i Tyrkia de siste årene.

– Norsk PEN har stått ved Osman Kavala og de andre tiltalte ved alle høringene så langt. I forrige uke avgjorde Den europeiske menneskerettighetsdomstolen at Tyrkia må løslate Kavala umiddelbart, og vi forventer at det skjer 24. og 25. desember, sier Stockford.

For mer informasjon, kontakt generalsekretær Hege Newth: 930 02 262.

Internasjonalt opprop: Løslat Osman Kavala og hans 15 medtiltalte

Norsk PEN og en lang rekke ytringsfrihets- og presseorganisasjoner fordømmer den tyrkiske domstolens beslutning 8. oktober om fortsatt fengsling av Osman Kavala og de 15 medtiltalte i den såkalte Gezipark-saken. Vi ber om at siktelsene mot de 16 henlegges og at de tiltalte løslates umiddelbart.

OPPROPET:

We, the undersigned freedom of expression and media freedom organisations, strongly condemn the court’s interim decision on the Gezi Park trial to continue the detention of civil society leading figure Osman Kavala at the end of the third hearing of the case, on 8 October 2019.

The judicial panel of the 30th High Criminal Court sitting at Silivri High Security Facility in Istanbul upheld the prosecutor’s request for the continuing detention of Kavala in Silivri. The next hearing was set for 24-25 December 2019. We believe that the decision against Kavala’s release and the very continuation of this trial contravenes international human rights standards and is a clear demonstration of the lack of a functioning judicial system in Turkey.

We call for the case against all 16 defendants to be dropped and for Kavala and human rights defender Yiğit Aksakoğlu to be compensated for the time they have spent in prison.

Doubts over the independence of the court panel were cast by many, including lawyer Can Atalay, defendant in this case. While giving oral evidence at court in his defence, Atalay commented that the changes in the judicial panel made by the Council of Judges and Prosecutors are indications of the lack of impartiality of the judiciary. As such, he argued that it was in contravention of Articles 36 (right to a Fair Trial) and 37 (right to a Natural Judge) of the Turkish Constitution, and in violation of the right to a fair trial as enshrined in Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Kjersti Løken Stavrum, President of Norwegian PEN said:

The lack of independence of the judicial panel has been proved beyond doubt today. In a case where there is neither evidence nor cause to detain the defendant Kavala in prison for one more day, the decision was given for his continued detention. By the time of the next hearing in December, Kavala will have spent over two years in prison for no tangible legal reason. We call for the entire case to be dropped and for this surreal and illegal process to be brought to a close.

Sarah Clarke, Head of Europe and Central Asia for ARTICLE 19, said:

A decision on Kavala’s case remains pending before the European Court of Human Rights. Today’s proceedings underscore the disintegration of the rule of law and domestic remedy in Turkey, as the defendant – who has already spent over 700 days in detention – is ordered to remain in pre-trial detention– on completely baseless charges. We urge the European Court of Human Rights to speedily rule in this case.

We urge the Turkish Ministry of Justice to put an end to such practices where punishment is meted out ahead of possible conviction and to commit to the abolition of extended pretrial detention, as the Government outlined in the recent Judicial Reform Strategy, by immediately freeing Kavala.

We also call upon all diplomatic missions and all other international observers to attend the next hearing on 24-25 December 2019 to records the proceedings and show their continuing support for the defendants.

Article 19

Articolo 21

Civic Space Studies Association

Danish PEN

ECPMF (European Centre for Press and Media Freedom)

English PEN

EFJ (European Federation of Journalists)

Freedom House

German PEN

GEN Global Editors Network

IFJ International Federation of Journalists

Norwegian PEN

OBCT (Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa)

P24 (Punto 24)

PEN America

PEN Canada

PEN International

SEEMO (South East Europe Media Organisation)

Swedish PEN

Wales PEN Cymru

Gezi Park’s second hearing confirms lack of rule of law in Turkey

We, the undersigned human rights and freedom of expression organisations, condemn the interim judicial decision taken in the second hearing of the Gezi Park trial. The indictment accuses 16 civil society figures and arts practitioners in Turkey of having planned to “attempt to overthrow the government” and of having financed the peaceful Gezi Park protests. If found guilty, they face a sentence of life imprisonment without parole.

We share the view that “the trial is in itself an act of intimidation”, having been opened 6 years after the Gezi protests took place in 2013. We are extremely concerned that this trial may once again contribute to creating a chilling effect on the fulfillment of the rights to freedom of assembly and expression and the legitimate right to protest as enshrined in the Turkish Constitution. We call for a concerted response by the European Union and Europe Member States to put urgent, consistent and collective pressure upon the Government of Turkey to restore the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary in Turkey.

On 18 July 2019, the judicial panel decided to reject the requests of defence lawyers for the release of Osman Kavala from 21 months of pre-trial detention and for the lifting of judicial control measures, including the travel ban, on the other defendants. Sarah Clarke, ARTICLE 19’s Head of Europe and Central Asia, said: “This decision represents a disturbingly clear example of the continuous absence of the rule of law and lack of independence of the judiciary in Turkey.” The indictment itself shows the total lack of tangible evidence for these allegations.

We strongly object the continuing pre-trial detention of Osman Kavala, who has now been in a maximum-security prison for 631 days. Kavala said in his defence statement, “I was never asked to make any statements during my time in detention or in custody with the police in relation to the allegations against me. I was not questioned by the prosecutor at any time after I was arrested. The indictment was prepared 16 months after I was arrested and this too indicates that there was no evidence to hand.”

Grounds for Kavala’s arrest are insufficiently supported in the indictment, raising serious concerns relating to the proportionality and legitimacy of his arrest. The lengthy pre-trial detention, which started 4 years after the Gezi Park protests took place, is unwarranted and disproportionate as a legal precaution against the defendant’s absconding or posing a ‘threat to society’. The excessive length of Kavala’s pre-trial detention of 21 months, his rights to presumption of innocence, to humane treatment, to the right to a fair trial and to liberty and security have all been violated in the most unnacceptable manner.

During the second hearing, defence lawyers argued that the evidence collected between May and November 2013 in relation to the Gezi protests was “re-evaluated”. In an earlier case drawing on some of the same evidence, an Istanbul court in 2015 acquitted all 26 defendants (including two of the defendants in the current Gezi Park case, (Mücella Yapıcı and Tayfun Kahraman). In the current case, the court has failed to take into consideration that 2015 judgement.

Furthermore, the defence demonstrated the inappropriateness of the charges under Article 312 of the Turkish Criminal Code which clearly includes the reference to an “act of force or violence” in the definition of the offence. The 2013 Gezi Park protests represented a peaceful and non-violent movement. The actual excessive use of force was that used by the police against civilians including the extensive use of teargas against the crowds. The indictment, as the defence lawyers proved time and again, contains no reference to an armed organisation (as per Article 314 of the Turkish Criminal Code), which further questions the basis of the accusations.

Norwegian PEN President, Kjersti Løken Stavrum said, “We will continue to monitor this trial and to advocate for all charges to be dropped against the 16 defendants. The fact that the 657-page indictment, bereft of concrete evidence, was accepted by the judicial panel is sadly, once more a clear indication of the poor state of the rule of law in Turkey.”

The next hearing of the Gezi Park trial will take place in Silivri on 8-9 October 2019, when other defendants will be heard and plaintiffs’ requests will be evaluated by the court.

ARTICLE 19
Articolo 21
Danish PEN
ECPMF (European Centre for Press and Media Freedom)
English PEN
Front Line Defenders
Index on Censorship
Norwegian PEN
OBC Transeuropa
PEN America
PEN Flanders
PEN International
PEN Netherlands
PEN Suisse Romand
PEN Turkey
RSF (Reporters Without Borders)
SEEMO (South East Europe Media Organisation)
Swedish PEN
Swiss Italian and Reto-Romanch PEN Centre
Wales PEN Cymru

Turkey: Gezi Park case must be dismissed

                                            

Taksim Square – Gazi Park Protests, ?stanbul- Photo: Alan Hilditsch

24 June 2019 – PEN centres in fourteen countries today joined PEN International and Norwegian PEN in calling for the Turkish authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Osman Kavala and Yiğit Aksakoğlu and drop all charges against them and their 14 co-defendants including prominent figures in the Taksim resistance such as Mücella Yapıcı, Tayfun Kahraman and Can Atalay. All defendants face life imprisonment on the charge of ‘attempting to overthrow the government’ during the Gezi Park protests of 2013. Representatives of PEN International, Norwegian PEN and PEN Turkey will be monitoring the hearings at Silivri High Security Prison’s courthouse near Istanbul on 24 and 25 June, 2019.

‘We condemn the Turkish authorities’ efforts to prosecute 16 civil society figures for their alleged role in the 2013 Gezi Park protests. Such spurious charges, for which the defendants face life in prison without the possibility of parole, should be dropped. The distinct lack of evidence in this case underlines its deeply political nature and serves as a stark reminder of the Turkish authorities’ readiness to silence dissenting voices,’ said Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International.

A 657-page long indictment, released on 19 February 2019 and accepted by Istanbul’s 30th High Criminal Court on 4 March 2019, accuses the defendants of being responsible for crimes allegedly committed by protestors across Turkey during May and June 2013 and reframes the overwhelmingly peaceful protests as a conspiracy to overthrow the government. The indictment lists the plaintiffs as the then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his entire cabinet at the time and 746 other complainants. Evidence consists mainly of intercepted telephone calls from the defendants, extensive details of foreign travel over a number of years and social media posts. The evidence further consists of surveillance camera photographs of publisher and civil society leader Osman Kavala meeting various people. With the exception of the phone calls, the majority of the evidence is dated after the protests took place.

Two of the defendants, Osman Kavala and rights-defender Yiğit Aksakoğlu, have been held in pre-trial detention in Silivri prison since 1 November 2017 and 17 November 2018 respectively. Three of the defendants – actor and director Memet Ali Alabora, actor Pınar Öğün and novelist and playwright Meltem Arıkan – are notably accused of having provoked the Gezi park protests with their play Mi Minör, staged in December, 2012. All defendants have been charged with ‘attempting to overthrow the government or partially or wholly preventing its functions’ under Article 312 of Turkey’s Criminal Code, the most severe sentence under Turkish law.

‘No evidence contained in the indictment successfully links any of the accused to a concerted effort to bring down the government, nor does it establish that any of the defendants were aware of plots to do so. Not only have the rights of liberty and security of Osman Kavala and Yiğit Aksakoğlu been violated under Turkey’s constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, but said violations appear to infringe the Convention’s Article 18, in that these detentions and the bringing of the case overall has a purely political motivation,’ said Kjersti Løken Stavrum, President of Norwegian PEN.

‘Osman Kavala has been arbitrarily deprived of his liberty for 20 months; Yiğit Aksakoğlu for over seven months. Prominent figures in the Taksim resistance as well as writers, actors and filmmakers are in the witness box. We call on the Turkish authorities to release Osman Kavala and Yiğit Aksakoğlu immediately and unconditionally, to drop charges against all defendants in this case and to urgently end their crackdown on civil society,’ said Caroline Stockford, Turkey Adviser to Norwegian PEN.

Additional information
In May 2013 a peaceful protest against an urban development plan was staged in Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park, one of the few green spaces in the city. Local protests quickly spread and turned into the biggest civil protest in Turkey’s history, with over 3 million people taking to the streets across 81 cities. Nine people lost their lives and thousands were injured, as police repeatedly used aggressive tactics and excessive force against protestors. While thousands of people were arrested during the course of the protests, most cases that went to trial ended in acquittal. Four years later, however, the Turkish authorities began to arrest those they suspected of organising the protests in an apparent attempt to secure public support and solidify power.

Civil society leader, philanthropist, publisher, and human rights defender Osman Kavala, who is accused of financing the Gezi movement, was first detained on 18 October 2017 at Istanbul’s Atatürk airport upon returning from the city of Gaziantep, south-eastern Turkey. On 1 November 2017, a Court in Istanbul ruled that he be remanded in Silivri Prison, where he has been detained since. On 22 May 2019, Turkey’s Constitutional Court rejected an application to end his continued pre-trial detention. His case is pending before the European Court of Human Rights.

The defendants, in alphabetical order of surnames, are:
Yiğit Aksakoğlu (Civil society professional) – held in pretrial detention
Memet Ali Alabora (Director, actor) – abroad
Hakan Altınay (Chair of Open Society Foundation) – in Turkey, subject of travel ban
Meltem Arıkan (Novelist, playwright) – abroad
Can Atalay (Lawyer and human rights defender) – in Turkey
Can Dündar (Journalist, author) – abroad
İnanç Ekmekci – abroad
Yiğit Ekmekçi (Chair of Anadolu Kültür) – in Turkey, subject of travel ban
Hikmet Germiyanoğlu (NGO consultant) – in Turkey
Tayfun Kahraman (Urban planner) – in Turkey
Osman Kavala (Director of Open Society Foundation) – in pretrial detention
Çiğdem Mater (Film producer) – in Turkey, subject of travel ban
Pınar Öğün (Actor) – abroad
Mine Özerden (Civil society and arts project coordinator) – in Turkey, subject of travel ban
Mücella Yapıcı (Architect and engineer) – in Turkey
Gökçe Yılmaz – in Turkey
Report by English PEN – ‘The Gezi protests: the impact on freedom of expression in Turkey’

The Gezi Park Protests: the impact on freedom of expression in Turkey

Signatories
Danish PEN
English PEN
French PEN
German PEN
Kurdish PEN
Norwegian PEN
PEN America
PEN Belgium/Flanders
PEN Canada
PEN International
PEN Netherlands
PEN Suisse Romand
PEN Turkey
Scottish PEN
Swedish PEN
Wales PEN Cymru

Media enquiries
PEN International        mike.halmshaw@pen-international.org
Norwegian PEN            cevirimiz@gmail.com

PEN-leder dekker lokalvalg og rettssak i Istanbul

Den tyrkiske filantropen og aktivisten Osman Kavala ble arrestert 1. november 2017. Foto: Bianet

Norsk PENs leder Kjersti Løken Stavrum er til stede i Istanbul for å dekke dagens lokalvalg, samt første dag av rettssaken mot Osman Kavala som starter i Silivri-fengselet i morgen, 24. juni.

– Denne rettssaken omtales som «En sak uten bevis». Den har skapt bekymring og protester fra mange hold. Vi i Norsk PEN prioriterer å være til stede for å minne om at i denne saken er det demokratiet i Tyrkia som sitter på tiltalebenken, uttaler Kjersti Løken Stavrum.

Kjersti Løken Stavrum er tilgjengelig for kommentarer på tlf: +47 98203070.

I 2017 ble filantropen Osman Kavala varetektsfengselt, det er 600 dager siden.

Les mer om saken mot ham her.