International civil society organisations demand release of Gezi defendants

A joint statement published by international civil society organisations has demanded the immediate release of two Turkish activists charged with attempting to bring down Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government in the 2013 Gezi Park protests, German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported.

The organisations, including Amnesty International, journalists’ rights organisation Reporters Without Borders, international writers’ association PEN’s German centre, and the Turkish-German Forum of Culture, published the statement days before the Gezi defendants’ next hearing on Monday.

Osman Kavala, a Turkish businessman and philanthropist, and Yiğit Aksakoğlu, are the only two of the case’s 16 defendants who are currently held in pre-trial detention. Friday marked Kavala’s 600th day in prison; Aksakoğlu has been held since last November.

“Today, Osman Kavala - who should not have spent a single day in jail - marks 600 days behind bars in pre-trial detention. This trial speaks volumes about the deeply flawed judiciary that has allowed this political witch-hunt to take place”, Amnesty International’s Andrew Gardner said in a statement published on the organisation’s website on Friday.

The 16 defendants, including civil society activists, actors, artists, architects, lawyers and writers, played prominent roles in protests that shook the Turkish government in 2013.

Small-scale protests were triggered by plans to demolish a rare green area in the city centre of Istanbul, but these ballooned and spread across the country after footage of violent police interventions against demonstrators went viral on social media.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the AKP say the protests were part of a foreign plot to unseat Turkey’s government led by Hungarian-American investor George Soros.

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.

“The 657-page indictment against Osman Kavala, Yiğit Aksakoğlu and 14 others does not contain a single shred of evidence that they were in any way involved in criminal  activity, let alone conspiring to overthrow the government”, Gardner’s statement read.

“Instead it is absurdly attempting to portray routine civil society activities as crimes”, it said.

The indictment includes tapped recordings of phone conversations with journalists, emails, records of flights and other routine data as evidence in a trial that the prosecution is seeking a combined sentence of over 47,000 years in prison for the defendants.

“This trial is nothing more than an egregious attempt to silence some of Turkey’s most prominent civil society figures. Osman Kavala and Yiğit Aksakoğlu must be immediately released and the absurd charges against all 16 of them must be dropped”, Gardner said.