Gezi indictment is politically-motivated smear campaign - HRW

The prosecutors' indictment accusing philanthropist Osman Kavala and 15 other Turkish nationals of organising the 2013 Gezi protests in an attempt to overthrow the government provides no credible evidence of criminal activity, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday.

The demonstrations of May-June 2013, which began as a small protest against the destruction of a park in central Istanbul but soon swept across Turkey as a result of a harsh government crackdown, ultimately killed 11 people and injured more than 8,000.

Early this month, a Turkish court accepted the 657-page indictment calling for 47,520 years in jail for the 16 people prosecutors charge with organising the protests, including the alleged leader, businessman and activist Kavala, who has been imprisoned since late 2017.  

The indictment argues that, rather than a reaction to the police crackdown and the result of frustration at Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian rule, the protests were orchestrated by the suspects in a plot to topple the government. The prosecutor also accuses the defendants of responsibility for crimes allegedly committed by protesters across Turkey.

“A thorough examination of the indictment against Osman Kavala and the 15 others reinforces concerns that a politically motivated smear campaign advanced at the highest level of the Turkish government has become the basis for a criminal prosecution,” said Hugh Williamson, HRW Europe and Central Asia director. “Since there is absolutely no evidence in this indictment that Kavala and the others planned the Gezi protests, let alone conspired to foment an illegal uprising, the manifestly ill-founded charges against them should be dropped.”

HRW joins a chorus of voices denouncing the indictment. Freedom House’s director of special research, Nate Schenkkan, called the document “an embarrassment”. In a joint statement, Germany and France said the indictment “may damage democracy itself”. Andrew Gardner, Turkey representative for rights group Amnesty International, called it ridiculous.

The evidence presented in the indictment consists mainly of intercepted telephone calls from Kavala and the other defendants, details of years of their foreign travel, social media posts, and surveillance camera photographs of Kavala meeting various people, said HRW. Journalist Can Dündar, for instance, is accused of provoking the Gezi protests via social media posts.

“Human Rights Watch analyzed the indictment and found an acute lack of specificity to the allegations it contains. The prosecutor has made no serious attempt to discover a causal link between the alleged evidence cited against the defendants and the charges against them,” HRW said in a statement.

HRW called for the Istanbul prosecutor to request the release of Kavala and Yiğit Aksakoğlu, in prison since November, and that all the charges be dropped.

“The charges against Kavala and the 15 others are not only manifestly ill-founded, but also an effort by government authorities to usurp the judicial system for political purposes,” said the statement.