Activist Osman Kavala sentenced to life in prison

Philanthropist was found guilty of attempted coup in 2016. Civil organizations say the trial was a “farce”. He will not be eligible for parole and has compared the sentence to murder. Turkish activist and philanthropist Osman Kavala was convicted on Monday (26/04) of trying to overthrow the Turkish government in 2016, in a sentence issued by a court in Istanbul. He had already been in prison for four and a half years without being tried.

Kavala, who is 64, had been in detention without trial since October 2017.

Kavala, who is 64, had been in detention without trial since October 2017.

Photo: DW / Deutsche Welle

The trial attracted international attention and strained relations between Ankara and Western countries as the trial was widely seen as a political crackdown on critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

DW correspondent Dorian Jones said the reaction to the verdict and sentence had been one of shock in the country. “There is a palpable shock within Turkish civil society. The sentence is the most severe that can be given to anyone in Turkey. This means that Osman Kavala will be held in solitary confinement, will not be eligible for parole, and will now spend the rest of his life in prison.”

Civilian entities point to “farce”

The AFP news agency reported that the sentence was met with boos from some of the people who had gathered to watch the trial, including several Western diplomats.

According to the Association of Media and Legal Studies group, which had been monitoring the trial, after his sentencing, Kavala said: “The qualified life sentence proposed against me is a murder that cannot be explained on legal grounds.”

Amnesty International’s Europe director, Nils Muiznieks, criticized the ruling. “Today, we witness a farce of justice of spectacular proportions,” he said.

Emma Sinclair-Webb of Human Rights Watch said that Kavala’s conviction and sentence was “the worst possible outcome for this sham trial”.

What was the case about?

Kavala and seven other famous defendants faced charges of spying and trying to overthrow the government, among others.

They have been accused of links to the 2013 Gezi protests and the 2016 coup attempt, both of which Erdogan believes to be part of an international plot to overthrow him.

Defendant Mucella Yapici previously told the court that the 2013 Gezi rallies were “the most democratic, most creative and peaceful collective movement in the history of this country”.

Paris-born Kavala, who made his fortune in the publishing industry, was initially detained upon arriving at Istanbul airport after a trip to a cultural center in the Turkish city of Gaziantep in October 2017.

He was accused of funding a 2013 wave of anti-government protests. Despite being released in 2020, he was arrested again just hours later on a charge of attempting to overturn the constitutional order related to a 2016 coup attempt.

He was also acquitted of that charge, but detained on espionage charges in the same case. Critics say those charges were aimed at circumventing a 2019 European Court of Human Rights ruling that called for his release. In the end, Kavala, who is 64, faced charges related to both the 2013 protests and the 2016 coup attempt.

Turkey declared a state of emergency after the failed coup attempt, and used this as a pretext to purge the Armed Forces and the public sector. The government blames US cleric Fetullah Gulen and his Hizmet movement for organizing the coup attempt to overthrow Erdogan.

bl (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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