Reactions to Turkey’s Gezi indictment: “Outlandish”, “unacceptable”, “madness”...

This is story has been updated with new comments on the indictment.

International rights groups condemned a new indictment sent to a Turkish criminal court demanding life sentences for 16 civil society leaders, including businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala.

The criminal court has 15 days to examine the indictment charging the 16 with attempting to overthrow the government for their part in the 2013 Gezi protests, the biggest anti-government demonstrations since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist government came to power in 2002.

“These outlandish allegations are an attempt to rewrite history and to silence some of Turkey’s most prominent civil society figures who now face the prospect of being tried by Turkey’s deeply flawed justice system,” said Andrew Gardner, the head of Turkish desk at Amnesty International

Gardner said almost six years after the protests during which tens of thousands people across Turkey took the streets, the 16 named in the indictment now faced a possible lifetime behind bars without the possibility of parole.

Michael Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, said the indictment was “a blatant attempt to criminalise assembly and association … By seeking to imprison these activists, the Turkish government is again showing it has no intention of returning to the rule of law and democratic governance.”

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of the Human Rights Watch, said that by seeking a life sentence for Kavala, prosecutors were trying to underscore what he called Erdoğan’s absurd claim that the Gezi Park protests happened not due to his high-handed governance, but to external financing. 

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic said on Facebook that she was appalled by the indictment. “The accusations levelled against these persons are simply unacceptable and I hope that the criminal court in question will see them as such,” she said. 

Kati Piri, the European Parliament's (EP) Turkey rapporteur, said: “The judiciary in Turkey has become a total joke. Arresting people without an indictment, and after 16 months in jail accuse people like Osman Kavala of attempting to destroy the Republic of Turkey is total madness.”

Nils Muižnieks, President of the Association of Schools of Political Studies of the Council of Europe (ASPS), voiced outrage at the demand by prosecutors for life sentences for 16 people.

“Justice in Turkey has become a sham. Anyone who criticises the government - whether an opposition politician, academic, civil society activist or journalist - is at risk of being accused of terrorism or seeking to overthrow the government”, the president said. 

Mehmet Ali Alabora
Actor Mehmet Ali Alabora and his wife Pınar Alabora also face life sentences.

The 16 suspects listed in the indictment include journalist Can Dündar, and actors Mehmet Ali Alabora and Pınar Alabora.

Hakan Altınay and Gökçe Yılmaz (Tüylüoğlu), the former directors of Turkey’s Open Society Foundation, are also among suspects. Open Society pulled out of Turkey in November refuting Erdoğan’s allegations that the organisation was bent on overthrowing his government.

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. 

Kavala, who has been in prison for almost 16 months, and civil society activist Yiğit Aksakoğlu, who was detained in November, are already held in pre-trial detention. Arrests warrants were issued for Mehmet Ali Alabora, Pıbar Alabora, Meltem Arıkan, Can Dündar, Gökçe Yılmaz (Tüylüoğlu), and Hanzade Hikmet Germiyanoğlu, all currently outside Turkey. 

The prosecutors accused the suspects of attempting to overthrow the government, harming public property and places of worship. The prosecutors demanded a 3,158 year sentence for Kavala.

The 657-page indictment says that plans for Gezi Park protests began in 2011 and the events were orchestrated by the 16 suspects. The indictment covers the operations of Open Society in Turkey, in addition to Kavala’s organisation Anadolu Kültür and Taksim Solidarity Group, said the indictment, parts of which were shared by the defence lawyers. 

Sözcü said 746 names were listed as complainants, including Erdoğan. 

The 2013 demonstrations started as a peaceful sit-in to protest a plan to build on Istanbul’s small Gezi Park, but later spread nationwide after police used heavy-handed tactics against the protestors.

Protesters occupied Gezi Park for almost two weeks and succeeded in reversing plans for its demolition, and in spite of deaths and injuries of protesters and the lack of success in effecting broader political change, the exuberant and creative spirit of the protests is still remembered fondly by many who took part.

Yiğit Aksakoğlu
Yiğit Aksakjoğlu, a civil society activist, has been in pre-trial detention since November.