Hike sentence

Life sentence for Turkish activist branded as ‘devastating blow’ to global human rights

An Istanbul court on Monday sentenced Turkish civil rights activist and philanthropist Osman Kavala to an aggravated life sentence, sparking a wave of strong global condemnations.

“This blatant condemnation sounds the death knell for Turkish democracy.”

“We have seen a travesty of justice of spectacular proportions,” said Nils Muižnieks, Europe Director of Amnesty International.

“This verdict deals a devastating blow not only to Osman Kavala, his co-defendants and their families,” he added, “but to all those who believe in justice and human rights activism. ‘man in Turkey and beyond’.

Kavala, 64, who had previously spent four years in prison without conviction, was convicted along with seven other defendants of allegedly trying to overthrow the government during an uprising that erupted in 2013.

According to CNN:

He was first arrested in 2017 on charges related to the 2013 protests at Gezi Park in Istanbul. The trial was closely watched by rights groups, who accused the Turkish government of using the justice system to suppress dissenting voices.

Although Kavala was acquitted in 2020, that verdict was overturned and new charges were brought against him for his alleged involvement in the July 2016 coup attempt, which resulted in the deaths of at least 250 people. and a subsequent crackdown that saw more than 110,000 people, including civil servants, teachers, activists and journalists detained.

The court’s decision, Muižnieks said, “defies logic.”

“The prosecuting authorities have repeatedly failed to provide evidence to support the baseless charges of attempting to overthrow the government. This unfair verdict shows that the Gezi trial was merely an attempt to silence independent voices,” he added.

Liesl Gerntholtz, director of the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Center, said Monday marked “a dark moment for Turkey” and called Kavala’s life sentence “a devastating and unjust blow, not only for him and his family, but also for freedom of expression and human rights in Turkey.

“The Kavala case,” she added, “is a blatant attempt to criminalize freedom of expression and to use the courts to retaliate against those who dare to criticize the government. This blatant condemnation is a death knell for Turkish democracy”.

Similarly, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth denounced condemnation as “an abomination” and said Kavala “has done nothing but have an independent voice, but [Turkish] President Erdogan seems to have someone to blame for the widespread opposition to his autocratic rule.”

Added to the outrage is Ankara’s contempt for the European Court of Human Rights’ call for Kavala’s release – a contempt that in February prompted the Council of Europe to take almost unprecedented disciplinary action against Turkey.

The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell Fontelles, placed the harsh sentences in the context of the demands of the European Court and mentioned“Respect for fundamental rights and freedoms is more important today than ever.”

European nations, including France, also lamented the result. The French Foreign Ministry has called for Kavala’s “immediate release” and the dropping of all charges against him. The ministry added that Kavala’s four-year detention was already against “Turkey’s international obligations”.

The US State Department also weighed in, with spokesman Ned Price calling Kavala’s “unjust condemnation” “inconsistent with respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law”.

“We again call on Turkey to release Osman Kavala, in accordance with the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, as well as to release all other arbitrarily detained persons,” Price said.