Gezi trial interim decision: Kavala once again remains in detention

This is story has been updated with statements of Osman Kavala and court ruling.

An Istanbul court on Thursday ruled by a majority vote to continue the pre-trial detention of Osman Kavala, a prominent businessman and philanthropist accused of planning nationwide protests in a bid to overthrow Turkey’s government.

Kavala has already spent over 600 days in prison in the landmark trial, which accuses Kavala and 15 other leading civil society figures of attempting to topple the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government in the 2013 Gezi Park protests.

The Turkish philanthropist is the only defendant behind bars since his co-defendant, activist Yiğit Aksaskoğlu, was released on probation during the last hearing in June.

Kavala denied all the charges against him during Monday's court session and said he had no links to any clandestine organisations aiming to topple the government. His pre-trial detention will continue at least until the next hearing is held on October 8-9.

Turkish prosecutors have called for life sentences without parole for the 16 defendants named in the 657-page indictment released on Feb. 19, 2019. The defendants are also accused of numerous other charges, including damaging property and damaging places of worship and cemeteries.

The 2013 protests began as small-scale environmental demonstrations to save a park in Istanbul’s city centre, but ballooned into protests joined by millions across the country when footage of the violent police response was shared online.

AKP leader and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan says the protests were organised by actors linked to Hungarian-American investor George Soros in an international plot against his government. The French and German foreign ministries have called the indictment and trial “appalling”, and an “obvious attempt to discredit” protesters.

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"I perceived the Gezi protests not as an attempt to overthrow the government, but a democratic campaign demanding the reversal of a wrong decision. I was not questioned regarding the accusations included in the indictment," Kavala said in his defence.

Howard Eissenstat, an associate professor of Middle East history at St. Lawrence University, said on July 17 the U.S. Congress should stand behind civil society, freedom of association and the rule of law in Turkey.

"As Turkey and the United States attempt to work through deep divides on Cyprus, Syria, and Russian missiles, with the Gezi trial set to resume tomorrow, Congress should make clear that civil society, due process, and basic freedoms in Turkey are important to the bilateral relationship and will not be forgotten," Eissenstat said.

Given U.S. President Donald Trump’s sympathetic statements about Erdoğan, the White House is unlikely to oppose the Gezi Park trial, Eissenstat said. Rather, it is up to the U.S. Congress to take a stance, he said.