Germany and France to monitor 'appalling' Turkish trial of Gezi Park activists

France and Germany will closely follow the trial of 16 defendants accused by Turkish prosecutors of planning mass protests in 2013 to overthrow the government, the French and German foreign ministries said in a joint statement on Friday.

The statement expressed dismay at what it called an “obvious attempt to discredit” anti-government protests by defining contact with foreign partners as a plot against the government.

On Mar. 4 a Turkish court accepted an indictment seeking a combined 47,520 years in prison for businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala and 15 other defendants, who are accused of drawing millions of demonstrators to the streets in the 2013 Gezi Park protests.

The protests began as an effort by a small number of environmentalists to save a park in central Istanbul, but ballooned into nationwide demonstrations after footage of harsh police interventions were shared widely on social media.

The indictment says the 16 defendants, including human rights activists, journalists and actors, worked in concert with foreign powers including Hungarian-American businessman George Soros in an effort to overthrow Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

Freedom House’s director of special research, Nate Schenkkan, called the document “bizarre” and “an embarrassment” in conversation with Ahval, summing up concerns from civil society groups over what many view as an attempt to suppress dissent in Turkey.

Germany and France held special consultations on the situation this week, resulting in a joint statement by François Croquette, Ambassador for Human Rights at the French Foreign Ministry, and Dr Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office on Friday:

Osman Kavala is a prominent representative of Turkey’s strong and vibrant civil society. To see him and his colleagues indicted on the basis of very weak evidence, not to say conspiracy theories, is a source of great concern to us. We are deeply worried about the signal this sends to Turkish NGOs that express criticism of the government. We are appalled by this obvious attempt to discredit the Gezi protests of 2013. If mere contact to and exchange with foreign partners can be denounced as a “plotting against the government”, this may damage democracy itself.

France and Germany will closely follow the trial against Osman and his co‑defendants during the months to come. The Turkish authorities need to ensure that all of the accused are given a fair trial, with the rights they are entitled to under the European Convention on Human Rights, and Turkey must adhere to its international obligations.

Besides Osman Kavala, the other defendants being tried are Yiğit Aksakoğlu, Ali Hakan Altınay, Ayşe Mücella Yapıcı, Ayşe Pınar Alabora, Can Dündar, Çiğdem Mater Utku, Gökçe Yılmaz, Handan Meltem Arıkan, Hanzade Hikmet Germiyanoğlu, İnanç Ekmekçi, Memet Ali Alabora, Mine Özerden, Şerafettin Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman and Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi.