The Ongoing Absurdity of the Case of Osman Kavala

Turkish government has held Osman Kavala in prison for more than three years without any credible accusation against him, indeed, even an indictment until a few months ago. He was found not guilty by the Turkish courts of his alleged crime of orchestrating the Gezi park protests during the summer 2013. After reviewing his case, European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that his continued detention was a violation of human rights. Around the world, newspaper editorial boards, human rights organizations, and grassroots activists have cried out for Kavala’s immediate release. Instead of releasing him, the Turkish courts instead prepared a second indictment. `

The same courts that found Osman Kavala not guilty of attempting to overthrow the government through the Gezi park protests now want to try him on espionage charges. After the Turkish courts ruled for his release, and the ECHR ruled that his rights were violated, Istanbul Chief Prosecutor prepared an indictment accusing him of working for foreign countries and organizations against the State of Turkey. The timing of the indictment was not a coincidence. Osman Kavala used his constitutional right and applied, technically appealed, to Turkish Constitution Court (Turkey’s supreme court), and the court decided to hear the Osman Kavala case in the first week of October. However, Istanbul’s Chief Prosecutor presented the indictment to the Istanbul 36th Criminal Court on the same day as the court’s hearing. Therefore, the Constitutional Court had to cancel the plan to hear the case. Kavala’s trial date for these new charges, which have a 20 year sentence attached, is December 18.

As international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have continuously pointed out, there is not a single piece of evidence to support those allegations. There are only extremely dubious accusations in the indictment, like that Osman Kavala traveled to different places to attend secret meetings. Indictment does not mention where, with who, and when these meetings allegedly took place. The same inducement introduces other baseless and nonsensical claims. For example, it alleges that a documentary on the lives of schoolgirls in Eastern Anatolia that was found in Osman Kavala’s phone is evidence that he wanted to “establish a perception that Turkish Republic kills citizens with Kurdish origin.”

Turkish judicial system is facing probably one of the most important cases in their almost a hundred-year-long history. If it wants to maintain even a semblance of being just and non-political, it must find Osman Kavala not guilty and release him immediately.

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Amnesty International Asks: #WhereIsNaderaAlmonla

Many Syrian, Afghani, Iraqi families and individuals in Turkey hurriedly made the journey to the border region with Greece in Turkey on 27 February 2020, amid promises by the Turkish authorities that the country’s borders with the European Union (EU) would be opened. Many of these asylum seekers had lived in Turkey for years, but the Turkish government has no qualms about using its immigrant and asylum-seekers population against the EU as a political leverage.

‘EU-Turkey deal’ that has been signed between Turkey and EU countries on 18 March 2016 allowed for the return of all those arriving irregularly on the Greek islands – including asylum-seekers – back to Turkey. In exchange, Turkey promised to ‘prevent new sea or land routes for illegal migration’

The Turkish government’s justification on its opening the border with the EU was its concurrent “Spring Shield” military operation in Syria’s Idlib province, launched after at least 34 Turkish soldiers were killed in a single attack in that province. The Syrian military (supported by Russia) had at that point advanced into the last stronghold controlled by Turkey-supported opposition armed groups. Turkey requested NATO assistance with the “Spring Shield” operation.

Within all these developments, without a doubt, the most affected group was the immigrants and asylum seekers in Turkey. When Amnesty International launched their briefing on the violence at the Greek-Turkish border (‘Caught in a political game https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur01/2077/2020/en/) the organization reported the case of Fatma (not her real name), a Syrian woman who is missing and presumed dead after she and her husband were separated from their six children while attempting to cross the Evros/Meriç river, south of Edirne, to enter Greece. To date, three months later, there are no news on what happened to Fatma.

Fatma has a name now: Nadera Almonla, and her lawyer has launched a digital campaign to call for justice for her and her family. The action started on Monday, June 18th, at 8:00 pm Turkey time/ 6:00 pm UK time/ 7:00 pm CET.

Since then, many support their efforts by joining the twitter action, amplifying the lawyer’s campaign chosen hashtags: #NaderaAlmonlaNerede #WhereIsNaderaAlmonla and targeting Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Here is what Amnesty’s report tells us about Nadera (Fatma)’s case:

“A less reported case is that of Fatma. On 29 February Fatma, from Syria, was attempting to cross the river Evros south of Edirne to enter Greece along with her husband and six children. Her husband Ahmed told Amnesty International that their six children crossed the river in a boat first while he and his wife and others waited on the Turkish side for the boat to return to take them across, but that as soon as the children reached the Greek side of the river six soldiers arrived in two army vehicles. He explained what happened next:

They fired in the air. My wife was afraid for our kids and wanted to go to them and she went into the river and I went with her. The water at first reached our waist. I am about 1.70 cm and my wife is shorter than me. The Greek soldiers shouted at us in a language I did not understand. I don’t think it was English. It must have been Greek. We kept walking in the river towards the Greek side and as we reached just over halfway, towards Greece, the water was at our shoulder and my wife’s neck. We raised our hands and kept walking and as we got about 2 or 3 metres from the river bank the Greek soldiers were right in front of us, on the riverbank, about 7 or 8 metres from us, pointing their rifles at us. They shot and we went into the water out of fear. I saw one with a handgun and one with a rifle. I reached the riverbank and my wife was behind me. The last sight I caught of her was when she was standing with her head above water about two meters behind me. The soldiers came towards me, I tried to go back to get my wife but they grabbed me and pushed me face down with my head away from the water so I could not see the river. I tried to get up but the soldier put his rifle to my head so I could not move. In all they shot at least three times’.”

When we look at the report, we see that Ahmed told Amnesty International that he attempted to ask the Greek soldiers about what happened to his wife but they did not answer. After he and his children were detained for four or five hours and their possessions and his and his sons’ clothes taken from them, they were driven back to the river and put in a wooden boat that brought them and others back to the Turkish side. Ahmed has returned to the scene to discover what happened to his wife, and has been supported by lawyers in Turkey and Greece, who have appealed to authorities in both countries, but no information is available on the whereabouts of Fatma or whether she was shot and killed, or injured or drowned in the river.

Nadera’s lawyer, who is assisting her husband and family in trying to obtain justice, has reported the case to the Greek police with no success. An application was also filed to the ECtHR about the case requesting measures to find Nadera and asking for an effective investigation on the matter, so far without results.

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Turkey’s “early release from prison” law leaves innocent and vulnerable prisoners at risk of COVID-19

Imprisoned journalists, writers, politicians, and human rights defenders are not in the ‘early release from prisons’ law passed by the Turkish parliament yesterday. Although there were more than 200 requested changes to the law by the opposition parties in the General Assembly, none of them was included in the final version.  

KONYA, TURKEY – SEPTEMBER 12 : A guardian unlocks the door to allow inmates of ‘Memorizers Dormitory’ for a visit at Konya Type E Closed prison on September 12, 2019. 13 inmates, who share the same dormitory called ‘Memorizers Dormitory’ at Konya Type E Closed prison, were influenced by their friends, who have completely memorized the holy Qur’an and became Memorizers (Hafiz), started to memorize the holy Qur’an. They aim to wear the cassock with a ceremony, held after one completely memorizes. (Photo by Abdullah Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The new law which is expected to allow for the early release of up to 100,000 prisoners, but fails to cover those who deserve it most. Reacting to these developments, Amnesty International’s Turkey Campaigner, Milena Buyum, said: 

Whilst any steps to reduce the chronic overcrowding in Turkey’s prisons are welcome, it is deeply disappointing that the tens of thousands of prisoners in pretrial detention – a measure that must only be used when there are no alternatives to custody – will not be considered for release… The authorities must also seriously consider releasing all those who are imprisoned pending trial, as well as those who are at particular risk because of their age or underlying health conditions regardless of the charge they have been imprisoned or convicted under.

President Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Devlet Bahceli’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have been working on a general amnesty law for the last a few years. It is publicly known that this amnesty was one of MHP’ conditions for forming the People’s Alliance with AKP in 2018 for the elections. The MHP previously tried to bring the law to Parliament, but Erdogan postponed negotiation.

On 31 March, the long-awaited judicial reform package was finally brought forward in response to the spread of COVID-19 in Turkish prisons. It was considered by the Justice Commission on 2 and 3 April but no significant amendments were added to broaden its scope to include prisoners of conscious, journalists, or politicians. 

Yesterday at the end of six-days of negotiations, the Execution Package prepared by the AKP in line with MHP’s suggestions was accepted at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey with 279 acceptance votes, against 51 rejection votes.

The plight of imprisoned Turkish human rights defenders, journalists, and politicians has garnered international attention. Before the law was passed, several international human rights bodies had appealed to Turkey to ensure the release of prisoners who were detained in violation of human right standards. 

In a statement, Council of Europe Commissioner of Human Rights declared that:

According to the relevant human rights standards as indicated by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) in its COVID-19 Statement of Principles, the resort to alternatives to deprivation of liberty is imperative in situations of overcrowding and even more so in cases of emergency. … Clearly, in this context, it is also all the more imperative that those persons, including human rights defenders, activists and journalists, who are – in some member states – detained in violation of human rights standards be immediately and unconditionally released.

Twenty-seven human rights and freedom of expression NGOs in Turkey and tens of thousands in Turkey and elsewhere signed a petition urging the Minister of Justice to broaden the scope of the proposed measures. In the joint statement, NGOs express their concern “that journalists, human rights defenders and others imprisoned for simply exercising their rights, and others who should be released, will remain behind bars in the package of measures as currently conceived by the government.”

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Kavala’s Detention After Release Order: He must immediately set free!

The decision to detain Osman Kavala, a prominent philanthropist, on new charges merely hours after a court ordered his release must be immediately reversed and he must immediately set free, said Amnesty International.

On 18 February 2020, a court ordered Osman Kavala’s release, and only few hours later the Istanbul Chief Prosecutor issued a new detention order against Osman Kavala on new charges.

“This decision smacks of deliberate and calculated cruelty. To have been granted release after almost two-and-a-half years behind bars only to have the door to freedom so callously slammed in his face is a devastating blow for Osman Kavala, his family and all who stand for justice in Turkey,” said Milena Buyum Amnesty International Turkey Campaigner. “This cynical and outrageous re-detention only deepens our resolve to continue to fight on Osman Kavala’s behalf. It is time for Turkey to end the relentless crackdown on dissenting voices. Osman Kavala must be immediately released from prison and the witch hunt against him ended.” she added.

Besides Amnesty International, the European Union, PEN, and many other human rights groups activists, politicians, international organizations , call detention of Osman Kavala ‘cynical and outrageous’.

Lead Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union stated on press release that “the lack of credible grounds to re-arrest Osman Kavala and to continue his detention pending different charges, further damages the credibility of Turkey’s judiciary.” Spokesperson’s statement continues with “As a candidate country and long-standing member of the Council of Europe, Turkey is expected to apply the highest democratic standards and practices, including the right to a fair trial, the strict respect of the principle of presumption of innocence and a legal process. These are critical aspects not only for the citizens of Turkey, but also to guarantee an impartial and independent Turkish judiciary. Judicial proceedings cannot be used as a means of silencing critical voices.”

In addition to Spokesperson’s statement, another report that published on 19 February 2020 Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, calls Turkish authorities to stop prosecute human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists. The report stresses the importance of reinstating the judicial independence in Turkey. “The Commissioner considers that the misuse of criminal investigations, proceedings, detentions and sentences to silence human rights defenders and to discourage civil society engagement is the most acute symptom of the mounting pressure they are facing in Turkey.”

The judicial independence in Turkey has been damaged significantly and it is regular to observe the symptoms. A day after the acquittal of Osman Kavala, Turkey’s Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) started an investigation of three judges who acquitted Osman Kavala. Also on Feb. 19, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the court “attempted” to acquit Kavala “with a maneuver.”

30 City Bars in Turkey including Ankara and Diyarbakir Bars called the members of HSK to resign in a joint statement. Bars stated that investigating of those three judges is not only unconstitutional but also an open threat for all the members of the judicial system. The joint statement points out that the Article 138 of the Turkish Constitution that regulates the judicial independence secures the independency of the judges.

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ECHR’s decision on Osman Kavala: Osman Kavala should be released immediately

In December 10th, Human Rights Day, European Court of Human Rights declared that Osman Kavala’s application admissible as regards the complaints under Article 5 §§ 1 and 3 (lack of reasonable suspicion and of relevant and sufficient reasons), Article 5 § 4 (lack of a speedy judicial review by the Constitutional Court) and Article 18 of the Convention. The court ordered that Turkey was to take all necessary measures to put an end to the Osman Kavala’s detention and to secure his immediate release.

Osman Kavala was arrested in October 18th 2017, and has been in prison for more than 2 years. His case is still in process. Allegedly, he tried to overthrow the Turkish Government and abolish the constitutional order in Turkey. ECHR’s decision proves three points that all the human right defenders has been pointing out since Osman Kavala’s arrest:

  1. The lack of reasonable suspicion that the applicant had committed an offence (Article 5/1 of the convention)
  2. The lack of a speedy judicial review by the Constitutional Court (Article 5/4 of the convention)
  3. Turkish state intentionally attempts to silence Osman Kavala who is a human right activists and philanthropist (Article 18 of the convention).

Turkey is a party of European Convention on Human Rights. And ECHR’s decisions are binding on Turkey. After the court’s decision, Turkish courts must immediately free Osman Kavala. Turkey’s insistence on keeping Osman Kavala in prison is not only a violation of human rights but also an illegal act by Turkish state.

The main cause used by Turkish authorities to arrest Osman Kavala is that he provided financial helps to Gezi events. However, Osman Kavala was arrested four years after Gezi Events. Turkish Government cannot explain why they waited for four years to arrest Osman Kavala, if there was already crime. Turkish courts still cannot provide any concrete evidence on Osman Kavala’s alleged crimes. That is why the ECHR declared that there was a lack of reasonable suspicion that the applicant had committed an offence.

Osman Kavala is a renowned philanthropist, businessman and human rights activist.

Osman Kavala has appealed to his arrest and applied to Turkish Constitutional Court. However, the Constitutional Court made decision 1 year 4 months after his application. This is clearly a very late processing period. Therefore, ECHR holded that there was a lack of speedy judicial review by the Constitutional Court.

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights believes that the Osman Kavala’s arrest, as well as his initial and continued detention, without an indictment for more than 400 days as of the time of writing of the present submission, should be seen against a backdrop of continuously increasing pressure on civil society and human rights defenders in Turkey in recent years.

The third party intervention by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights points out that regarding the practice of prosecutors, the Commissioner’s predecessor had pointed to the problem of indictments, expressing concern about the fact that they can become overly long, sometimes running into thousands of pages, especially in cases relating to terrorism and organized crime, owing to the fact that they are often limited to “a compilation of pieces of evidence, such as long, indiscriminate transcripts of many wire-tapped telephone conversations, some of which reportedly bear little relevance to the offense in question”.

Inclusion of the “limitation on use of restrictions on rights” article 18 (the restrictions permitted under this Convention to the said rights and freedoms shall not be applied for any purpose other than those for which they have been prescribed) in the ECHR’s Kavala decision shows a very crucial point, that is, Turkish judiciary system is extremely political.

Osman Kavala’s case is also expected to be a topic in upcoming German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Turkey. Andrew Gardner, a Turkey researcher for  Amnesty  International, has called on German Chancellor Angele Merkel to raise the issue of jailed philanthropist and human activist Osman Kavala during her meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Jan. 24 in Istanbul.

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Amnesty International’s Secretary General Speaks Out Against the Ongoing Case Against Turkish Human Rights Defenders

FreedTaner

Amnesty Turkey’s Honorary Chair Taner Kilic was released from prison a little over a year ago, but the case against him and ten other Turkish human rights defenders has continued to move through the courts. Taner and the Istanbul 10 face another hearing today and Amnesty is calling for an end to this miscarriage of justice.

Secretary General of Amnesty International, Kumi Naidoo, did not mince words when calling for the acquittal of Kilic and the Istanbul 10.

After more than two years and without a shred of credible evidence presented to substantiate the absurd charges made against them, it is now time to end this judicial farce and acquit Taner and the Istanbul 10.

Over the course of eight hearings, the prosecuting authorities have failed to present any credible evidence of any criminal wrongdoing, yet the threat of conviction has hung over these 11 human rights defenders but also as a warning to anyone else standing up for human rights in Turkey.

For updates on the case, follow Amnesty Campaigner @MilenaBuyum, who will be in the courtroom during the hearing.

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Join the Tweetstorm for Imprisoned Turkish Civil Society Leader Osman Kavala

SevgiliOsmanKavala2

During the first two weeks of this month, Osman Kavala will mark three significant milestones in his life. Yesterday, October 1, was his 700th day in prison since his arrest on charges that he instigated the 2013 Gezi Park protests in an effort to overthrow the Turkish government. Today, October 2, he marks his 701st day in jail and his 62nd birthday. Next week, October 8-9, he will appear in court for the third hearing in his case.

In solidarity with Kavala during this poignant and difficult stretch of time, supporters are using the hashtags #sevgiliOsmanKavala and #dearOsmanKavala to symbolically send messages to Kavala.

 

Kavala is one of the most important leaders of Turkish civil society, heading up the charitable foundation Anadolu Kultur, which supports arts and cultural projects that promote cultural diversity and exchange. Promoting human rights is a major tenant of Anadolu Kultur, and Kavala’s, work.

Kavala was one of the most prominent figures swept up in the crackdown on civil society in the wake of the 2016 coup attempt. Kavala and fifteen others are charged in the Gezi case. Amnesty’s Andrew Gardner has called the charges against Kavala “outlandish” and noted, despite its massive word count,

The 657-page indictment against Osman Kavala and the others does not contain a single shred of evidence that they were in any way involved in criminal activity, let alone conspiring to overthrow the government. During the first hearing in June, Osman Kavala and the other defendants made statements to the court that exposed in great detail the baseless allegations leveled against them.

Amnesty is calling for Kavala to be immediately released and all charges against him and his co-defendants to be dropped.

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Amnesty Issues Urgent Action for Disappeared Men

Nerede

Six men disappeared in February. Their families had no idea who had taken them, whether they were alive or dead. On July 28, four of the six suddenly reappeared in custody of the Turkish anti-terrorism authorities. Where they have been in the intervening months has not been determined. Turkish authorities have implied that the four only came into their custody on July 28. No lawyer has been allowed to meet with the four and the authorities have silenced them when their families asked what happened to them during the time they were missing.

The fact that the whereabouts of two men who went missing under similar circumstances is still unknown makes it all the more imperative that the Turkish authorities provide answers as to what happened to these four.

Amnesty has issued an urgent action demanding that the Turkish authorities “promptly investigate to determine the whereabouts of Gökhan Türkmen and Mustafa Yılmaz [the two missing men] and urgently inform their families.”

A Twitter campaign has also been launched with the tags #MustafaYilmazNerede and #GökhanTürkmenNerede (Where is Mustafa Yilmaz/ Where is Gokhan Turkmen?)

Enforced disappearances where widespread in Turkey in the 1980s and 1990s, but had become rare in the 2000s. Unfortunately, they seem to be making a comeback. In 2017, Human Rights Watch documented at least 4 cases.

 

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Stand up for Pride in Turkey

Gay Pride Parade in IstanbulIstanbul’s 16th annual Pride parade, scheduled for this Sunday, June 30, is at serious risk. Authorities have cracked down on this peaceful celebration every year since 2015, using excessive force to disperse participants.

“Fifty years ago today, LGBTI+ people took to the streets outside the Stonewall Inn in New York City to fight against bigotry and prejudice – and they won. On Sunday, thousands will take to the streets of Istanbul, defying an unlawful ban and possibly braving plastic bullets, teargas and police batons, to celebrate Pride,” said Sara Hall, Amnesty International’s Deputy Europe Director.

Thus far this year, Pride celebrations have been suppressed across Turkey. On June 22, despite an official ban, several hundred people gathered to celebrate pride in Izmir. More than a dozen participants were detained, despite complying with an order to disperse. All have since been released. A Pride march on May 10 at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara was violently broken up after the rector instituted a last minute ban.

In reaction to the banning and suppression of Pride events, Fotis Filippou, Amnesty International’s Deputy Europe Director said

“These discriminatory decisions are part of a widening and increasingly worrying suppression of LGBTI rights in Turkey… These events are a vibrant celebration of love, inclusion and diversity and the authorities have no place in applying unlawful and arbitrary bans.”

Support the  LGBTQ+ individuals and their allies who will brave the streets of Istanbul on Sunday by signing a petition urging the Turkish Minister of the Interior to allow Pride to go on.

Amnesty International will have observers on the ground to monitor events on Sunday. Follow Amnesty Turkey’s twitter account @aforgutu and Amnesty International Turkey campaigner @MilenaBuyum for updates in Turkish and English.

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METU Rector Issues Last Minute Ban on Pride Parade

TURKEY-GAY-LGBT-DEMO

A recent court decision had ended the blanket ban on LGBTQ events in Ankara, clearing the way for the annual Pride Parade at Middle East Technical University (METU) to move forward on May 10. However, on May 6, just days before the event, the school’s rector emailed the student group organizing the event and informed them that the parade would not be allowed to take place.

Despite the province-wide ban on LGBTQ events, the METU Pride celebrations went forward last year without incident after international pressure.

In response to the rector’s decision, Fotis Filippou, Amnesty International’s Campaigns Director for Europe issued a statement condemning the ban and urging the rector to reconsider.

For the last eight years students at this university have marched through their campus to celebrate pride and demand equality and dignity for LGBTI people. It is celebration of love which sends a message of hope to all those struggling to uphold fundamental rights in Turkey and beyond.

Rather than banning Pride events, the university should be supporting and protecting such marches and challenging homophobia and transphobia. Students must be allowed to march without fear of intimidation or violence.

The Rectorate needs to reverse its decision and students must be allowed to march without fear of intimidation or violence.

Show your support for the METU students and tell the rector to allow the Pride celebrations here.

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