A Turkish court on Monday accepted an indictment seeking life sentences against 16 people, including businessman and rights activist Osman Kavala, over the 2013 Gezi protests, Turkish news site Bianet said on Monday citing Kavala’s lawyer.
The indictment citing 746 plaintiffs, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, accuses the suspects of attempting to overthrow the government, harming public property and places of worship, it said.
Eleven people were killed and more than 8,000 injured during protests that began as a small-scale peaceful sit-in to demonstrate against the proposed destruction of a small İstanbul park, but spread nationwide in the summer of 2013, in what came to be known as the Gezi Park protests.
Authorities launched a new investigation into the protests last year, detaining more than a dozen people in November and seeking life sentences against Kavala, other rights activists and opposition figures involved in the protests, the biggest anti-government demonstrations since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002.
Arrested in November 2017 and facing 612 to 3,158 years in prison, Kavala's case has made international headlines.
Stating the defendants “at best wanted to force the government to resign or call early elections” and were making efforts “to prepare the grounds for a civil war or coup” if that did not happen, the indictment arrives ahead of local elections set to take place on March 31.
The 657-page indictment completed in Feb. 20 levels 10 different charges at the 16 suspects.
The suspects listed in the indictment include exiled journalist Can Dündar, actors Memet Ali Alabora and Pınar Alabora, as well as Hakan Altınay and Gökçe Yılmaz (Tüylüoğlu), the former directors of Turkey’s Open Society Foundation.
Architect Mücella Yapıcı, city planner Tayfun Kahraman, and lawyer Can Atalay also face possible life sentences. They were members of the Taksim Solidarity group, an initiative that was founded mainly by architects and city planners to oppose the government’s plans to build a shopping mall modelled on the Ottoman military barracks that had previously stood on the site of Gezi Park.
Çiğdem Mater Utku, Handan Meltem Arıkan, Hanzade Hikmet Germiyanoğlu, İnanç Ekmekçi (Mısırlıoğlu), Mine Özerden, Yiğit Aksakoğlu, and Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi are the remaining names prosecutors asked to be sentenced for their role in the Gezi protests.
“We see the bad intentions despite all its dirtiness and we reject it with all our clarity,” The Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) said in a statement published earlier on Monday.
International rights groups, including Amnesty International and Freedom House, have condemned the indictment demanding life sentences for 16 civil society leaders.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said jailed Turkish philanthropist and businessman Kavala provided finances for terrorists during the protests and he is backed by Hungarian-American investor and philanthropist George Soros. The Turkish branch of the Open Society Foundation, the philanthropic group founded by Soros, made the decision to shut down following what it said were “baseless” accusations.