A Turkish court has begun the retrial of the philanthropist Osman Kavala and 15 other people over their alleged role in nationwide protests in 2013, an expanding case that critics and even Ankara’s western allies say aims to quash dissent.
Kavala and eight others accused of organising the protests that began in Istanbul’s Gezi Park were acquitted of all charges in February 2020 but an appeal court overturned that ruling in January.
Kavala, who has been detained for three and a half years, is also accused of involvement in a 2016 coup attempt. Those charges were combined with the Gezi case in February.
On Friday, the judge requested the dossiers of another Gezi-related case against 35 members of a Besiktas supporters’ group. The court is deciding whether to merge the two cases after the football fans’ acquittal from 2015 was overturned on appeal last month.
Kavala told the court by video link that the attempt to merge the cases reflected a political strategy that seeks to ignore evidence. “Because merging different cases prevents focusing on actions, it is a useful method in political cases to create a perception,” he said.
The court rejected a request for Kavala to be released from custody and it set the next hearing for 6 August.
The European court of human rights called in 2019 for Kavala’s release on the grounds that the detention aimed to silence him. But Turkey has not abided by the ruling despite repeated calls by the committee of ministers of the Council of Europe. The US has also called for his release.
Critics say Turkey’s judiciary has been exploited to punish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s perceived opponents, especially under a crackdown after the 2016 coup attempt. The president and his AK party say the courts make independent decisions.
“Each phase of this case is riddled with injustices, inconsistencies and illogical and unlawful procedures,” said a campaign group called Free Osman Kavala.
The case of seven others who were abroad during the initial trial was joined again this month for the retrial. Some of the defendants were also acquitted in 2015 of charges related to the Gezi protests, meaning they are being tried over the same events for a third time.
The Gezi demonstrations in the summer of 2013 started as a protest against the redevelopment of a park in Istanbul, a city with limited green space, and quickly spread across the country. Erdoğan, then Turkey’s prime minister, dismissed the idea they were environmentally motivated and said they aimed to topple his government. The defendants deny the charges against them.
The indictment calls for life sentences without parole for the defendants, who are accused of attempting to overthrow the government and financing the protests, among other charges.
In response to questions from Reuters in March, Kavala said: “The claim that I planned, directed and financed the Gezi protests was an extremely fantastical one.”
The allegations that he was involved in the 2016 coup attempt were “much more absurd,” Kavala added. “These are properly surrealist fiction. They are impossible to falsify because they are not based on any evidence, concrete fact or reality.”