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

The History of Gezi Resistance that was almost not to be is now available On-Line

Did you know that the first person to protest against the destruction of Gezi Park was not among last year’s demonstrators but a man who stood up against construction on the park six decades ago? In 1952, city planner Aron Angel, who had been involved in the original park design, resigned from his position as chief city planner in protest at the building of the Hilton Hotel on the park, the first encroachment on what was then a much larger space than it is today. «I am ashamed,» he wrote in his resignation letter «to work for an organisation where personal interests seem to be the order of the day.» Those same personal interests lay at the roots of the protests 61 years later.

 Did you know that the protest that erupted in Taksim is part of a long history of people’s uprisings in the square and in the city? In the 400 years of Ottoman Rule, over 100 demonstrations were staged across the city, often leading to hundreds killed and the dethronement of Sultans. Post Ottomans, Taksim Square became a centre for demonstrations from the 1900s to today.

 Did you know that the first ever international football tournament to be played in Turkey was in 1923 held on a pitch inside a military barracks on Taksim Square? (It was between Turkey and Romania. It ended with a two-all draw.) The barracks were demolished in 1940, a building that the authorities proposed to reconstruct on the remaining green space, sparking the 2013 unrest.

 

These, and many other fascinating facts about popular protests in Istanbul in history to Gezi Park in 2013, were to appear in a Gezi resistance issue of NTV Tarih (History) magazine, planned for publication in the days after the events.

 Yet the publication was almost not to be. The magazine’s owners, the Doğuş Media Group that also owns the mainstream broadcasters, NTV, stopped the Gezi issue going to print – it would have been the 54th edition of the magazine  – and then ordered that the entire magazine be shut down, despite its popularity and a monthly circulation of 35,000. Doğuş is among a number of media conglomerates reliant on its good relations with the government and which had been widely criticised for bending to political pressure not to cover the protests.

 NTV Tarih’s editor Gürsel Göncü and his team resigned in protest, and posted the magazine on line in defiance. Soon after the Istanbul publishing house, Metis, intervened and published the book in print. The book proved popular, running into three editions in a matter of weeks. The proceeds of the sales were donated to the families of seven people who were killed during the protests.

 A year later, Metis has made an English edition of Tarih available, giving an opportunity for readers outside Turkey to reach this document of both the Gezi Resistance and the relationship between the government and the media in Turkey through historical records, contemporary photographs and illustrations. As well as the fascinating historical accounts, you can revisit events of the momentous two weeks in June 2013, through the magazine’s daily photo diary, learn of social media’s influence and compare with other related resistance movements in Spain, London, New York and Brazil.

 

This edition is supported by the Norwegian Non-Fiction Writers Association, PEN Norway and the Fritt Ord Foundation in celebration of the tenacity and refusal of the writers, editors and publishers in Turkey to succumb to the pressures of an attempt at effective censorship. Read the English edition on this link:http://cdn.metiskitap.com/Documents/historyrecordedlive/#p=1