Turkish philanthropist Kavala likely to be released next week - columnist

Turkish businessman and civil society activist Osman Kavala may be released at the next hearing of his trial after nearly 23 months in jail, T-24 news site’s columnist Murat Sabumcu wrote on Thursday citing sources in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). 

Kavala and the 15 other actors, lawyers, activists and journalists tried in the case face a total of 47,520 years in prison on charges of organising protests in an attempt to violently overthrow the government.

The 2013 Gezi protests started as a series of sit-ins to prevent the demolition of a park in central Istanbul, but ballooned into the biggest demonstrations yet faced by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan when footage of police violence against protestors went viral on social media.

The government says Kavala, the only suspect of the case who remains in prison, was the chief conspirator behind the protests, and that he used his non-profit arts and culture organisation Anadolu Kültür to sponsor sedition.

Erdoğan says Kavala and other defendants in the case were backed by American-Hungarian investor George Soros, whose Open Society Foundation closed its branch in Turkey over the accusations.

Sabuncu said there discomfort has been growing inside the AKP against Kavala’s imprisonment and the issue was even discussed during a central decision and management board of the party in the presence of Erdoğan.

“Everybody knows that Erdoğan has the final word… But, what people close to the government say is that Kavala is likely to be released in the next hearing of the trial that will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday next week,” Sabuncu said. 

The columnist said that by releasing Kavala, the government aimed to give a message to the world about its determination on steps to be taken for improving democracy in Turkey before unveiling a new judicial reform.

According to Sabuncu, journalists Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak could also be released next week. The journalists were detained in Sept. 2016, in a crackdown against intellectuals and writers following a failed July 2016 coup attempt and given life sentences in February 2018 over attempting to overthrow the “constitutional order,” “interfering with the work of the national assembly,” and “interfering with the work of the government” through violence or force.

A Turkish appeals court in July cleared the journalists of charges of violating the constitution. The court rejected the requests for the release of Altan and Ilıcak, ruling that both had “knowingly and willingly” aided the Gülen movement, which the Turkish government says orchestrated the failed putsch.

A high criminal court will reexamine Altan and Ilıcak’s case on Oct. 8 after the appeals court’s decision. If the court uphold its previous verdict, the case will be transferred to the appeals court again.