Turkish court extends activist detention despite pressure

ISTANBUL (AP) – A Turkish court on Friday extended the jail term of philanthropist Osman Kavala, whose case caused a diplomatic crisis with the United States and other Western countries after they called for his release.

The ruling of the Court of Justice paves the way for the Council of Europe to initiate infringement proceedings against Turkey.

Kavala has been jailed without being convicted for more than four years, leading to allegations of political persecution against the businessman amid international criticism of Ankara’s repression of opponents.

“This trial is another cheeky episode in the relentless political persecution for which the European Court of Justice has sentenced Turkey,” said Nils Muiznieks, Amnesty International’s European director.

“When a State demonstrates such a breach of its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe must intervene and initiate infringement proceedings.”

The Council of Europe, a 47-member bloc defending human rights, warned Turkey in September that it would initiate the procedure unless it released Kavala before a ministerial meeting next week.

The process could lead to the suspension of Turkey’s membership or voting rights, further isolating Ankara and threatening a key connection to Europe.

The ambassadors of 10 countries, including the United States, Germany and France, last month demanded Kavala’s immediate release in accordance with a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights from 2019. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to expel the envoys before resigning.

The European Court of Justice’s rulings are binding on its members and had demanded Kavala’s release two years ago pending trial, saying that his imprisonment was intended to silence him and was not supported by evidence of an offense.

Turkey maintained that he was detained under the rulings of its independent judiciary.

Kavala, 64, is accused of funding nationwide anti-government protests in 2013 and helping orchestrate a coup attempt three years later. He dismisses the charges, which carry a life sentence with no possibility of parole.

Kavala did not attend Friday’s hearing at Istanbul’s 13th High Criminal Court. He has previously said that his presence via video link from Istanbul’s Silivri prison was “meaningless” and a fair trial “no longer possible.”

His wife Ayse Bugra, opposition lawmakers and foreign diplomats were present. Utility police and water cannon vehicles were lined up outside the courthouse.

Kavala was acquitted in February last year of charges in connection with the 2013 Gezi protests, but the ruling was overturned and linked to charges relating to the coup attempt.

His trial is now part of a merged case involving 51 other defendants, including fans of the Besiktas football club, who were acquitted six years ago of charges related to the Gezi protests before this decision was also overturned.

Turkey’s divisive relationship with the West stems in part from criticism of its human rights status since the failed jigsaw puzzle, in which around 250 people were killed, and a foreign policy that has often put it at odds with other NATO members.

Ankara is also facing an economic crisis, with the lira hitting record lows over the past two months and losing 20% ​​of its value in November.

Kavala’s connections to billionaire financier George Soros’ Open Society Foundation have towered in his case, with Erdogan referring to him as a “Soros remnant” in speeches.

The next hearing will be held on 17 January.

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