Turkish Philanthropist Re-Arrested Immediately After Acquittal
By HG Masters
At nearly 10pm on February 18, Turkish prosecutors re-arrested businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, just six-and-a-half hours after a court acquitted him and eight others on charges of “attempting to overthrow the government.” Kavala is being accused again of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order,” but this time in relation to the attempted coup d’état on July 15, 2016, which Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) have blamed on followers of the self-exiled imam Fethullah Gülen.
The government had originally singled out these nine individuals, who range from architects to professors, lawyers, and civil-society leaders, for allegedly organizing and financing the 2013 Gezi Park protests which started over plans to build a shopping mall in place of a park in central Istanbul, ultimately leading to anti-government sentiments across the country. The initial acquittal ruled by the nine-judge panel of the İstanbul 30th Heavy Penal Court in Silivri, stated that “there was no concrete and material evidence as to the committal of the offenses charged,” came as a surprise to many. Earlier in February prosecutors had requested aggravated life sentences for Kavala along with architect Mücella Yapıcı and civil-society NGO worker Yiğit Aksakoğlu.
Observers to Kavala’s case decried the sudden turn of events on February 18. “This decision smacks of deliberate and calculated cruelty,” said Milena Buyum, Amnesty International’s Turkey Campaigner. The Council of European Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović said that Kavala’s re-arrest “amounts to ill-treatment.” In December 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ordered for Kavala’s immediate release, as it ruled that his detention violated Articles 5/1, 5/4, and 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights due to lack of evidence and due process. However, the Turkish court at Silivri falsely ruled that the ECtHR’s decision was not “finalized” and therefore did not have to recognize it.
Osman Kavala founded the nonprofit NGO Anadolu Kültür (Anatolian Culture) in 2002, and was engaged in a micro-financing project to encourage cultural initiatives for Syrian refugees in Antep province when he was arrested on October 18, 2017, at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport. The only defendant to be denied bail, he was detained for more than 28 months in Silivri prison, of which 16 months were spent without indictment. His trial has been marred by irregular procedures, including a paucity of evidence and being asked to testify in the absence of his lawyers. The primary witness, who has a history of serious mental health issues, had testified under a false name and defense lawyers were not permitted to question him.
Istanbul prosecutors’ latest allegations are particularly egregious to Turkish observers, as Kavala’s progressive organizations such as Anadolu Kültür stand in the opposite political corner from the groups linked to Fethullah Gülen. These conservative and nationalist groups are Sunni-Turkish in their orientation, and filled the ranks of schools, government departments, and security services with their followers under the AKP administration. Gülenist groups bitterly opposed the AKP's early outreach efforts to minority groups in Turkey. After the military coup d’état failed on July 15, the AKP government arrested more than 80,000 people for their connections to the Gülen movement, while 150,000 were purged from government positions. AKP under Erdoğan’s command continues to persecute its perceived enemies, jailing Kurdish politicians including former presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş and dozens of journalists.
Anadolu Kültür is the sponsor of several initiatives that promote inter-faith, multicultural, and civil-reconciliation projects between Turkey’s many minority groups, and also supports LGBTQ initiatives. It operates the Depo art space in Istanbul, the Diyarbakır Art Center in the southeastern Kurdish city, and the Space of Culture initiative which is dedicated to supporting microcultural projects in İzmir, Diyarbakır, and Gaziantep.
HG Masters is the deputy editor and deputy publisher of ArtAsiaPacific.
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