Turkey: “Gezi trial” third hearing, bogus charges on the menu

Justice and the Rule of Law, Shrinking Space for Civil Society, Statement, Turkey

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UPDATEAt the end of 8 October’s hearing, the judge ruled for the continuation of Osman Kavala’s pre-trial detention. The next and fourth hearing is scheduled for 24-25 December 2019. At the date of the fourth hearing, Mr Kavala will have spent more than 780 days behind bars. EuroMed Rights condemns the continued judicial harassment against Osman Kavala.

On 8-9 October 2019, the 16 defendants in the “Gezi Protests” trial will appear at the third hearing before the Istanbul 30th Heavy Penal Court in Silivri, charged with “attempting to overthrow the government or wholly or partially preventing its functioning” for organising or financing the Gezi Park protests in 2013. For these offences, the prosecution has requested 47,520 years imprisonment.

EuroMed Rights calls on the United Nations human rights mechanisms, the Council of Europe and the European Union to strongly condemn the abuses committed by the Turkish government in the “Gezi Protests” case, and urges the authorities to release all journalists, politicians and human rights defenders against whom they have not provided any evidence of internationally recognisable crimes.

The main defendant in the trial is Osman Kavala, a prominent civil society figure, philanthropist and chairman of the board of directors of the Anadolu Kültür Foundation. He was taken into custody on 19 October 2017 and he was officially arrested on 1 November, meaning that to date he has spent a total of 719 days behind bars. The other 15 defendants in this case have been released. Among them, Yiğit Aksakoğlu, arbitrarily detained in November 2018, was released on probation at the end of the first two-day hearing of 24-25 June 2019, with an international travel ban imposed on him.

The complainants are President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister at the time of the protests, his entire cabinet at the time, and another 746 unknown persons. The indictment was filed on 4 March 2019, the deadline set by the European Court of Human Rights for Turkey to make submissions in response to an application by Osman Kavala’s legal representatives.

“A broader pattern of escalating reprisals in Turkey against civil society actors” – Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović

This trial is an emblematic example of the dire situation faced by civil society organisations and human rights defenders in Turkey. Describing the Gezi Park protests as a “planned conspiracy resulting from foreign intervention aimed at destabilizing Turkey and bringing down its democratically elected leaders,” the Turkish authorities use bogus charges to target people the government sees as its critics and enemies, a strategy aimed at silencing and punishing not only the defendants but the whole civil society movement and human rights defenders for their legitimate and peaceful civic engagement.

As stressed in January 2019 by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, the legal proceeding against Osman Kavala and the Gezi trial as a whole form part of “a broader pattern of escalating reprisals in Turkey against civil society actors.” The almost two-years long Kavala’s detention is part of an abusive use of pre-trial detention by the criminal justice system in Turkey, undermining the chance of a fair trial and the rule of law, with a view to punishing statements and peaceful acts that are protected by international human rights standards.

EuroMed Rights publishes today a trial observation report of the first hearing of 24 June 2019, written by its Executive Committee member, Radostina Pavlova.

Note to the editor:

The Gezi protests started on 29 May 2013 after the police violently dispersed a peaceful sit–in over the government’s plans to redevelop the area around Taksim square, in Istanbul, including eliminating the green space in Gezi Park. The repeated and excessive use of teargas and water cannons by the police caused the anti–government protests to grow and to spread to cities throughout Turkey. Hundreds of thousands of people across Turkey took part in the Gezi protests, although these lasted just a few weeks.

Five protesters and a police officer were killed in various cities and multiple protesters sustained injuries from being shot in the head with teargas canisters, incidents that were well-documented at the time by international and local human rights groups.