May 15 2018

Civil society activist Kavala pens letter on sixth month of arrest

Prominent Turkish civil society activist Osman Kavala, who has been in jail since October of last year  but still remains without an indictment, penned a letter on the sixth month of his arrest, noting that unless Turkey embraces the presumption of innocence until proven guilty principle, the imbalance in the judicial system will remain, independent news site bianet reported.

Kavala, founder of the Center for Public Policy and Democracy Studies (PODEM, was arrested on Oct. 18, 2017 on charges of trying to overthrow the government and the constitutional order. The charges are largely based on his alleged communication with organizers of a workshop held between July 15 and July 17, 2016, on the island of Büyükada, off Istanbul, namely the Middle East studies wing of the U.S.-based Smithsonian Institution.

Published on Kavala’s personal website, the letter states "As of May 1, I had been in prison for six months. We are still waiting for the indictment.''

"Since the presumption of innocence is a key element in the right to a fair trial, the norms of the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) do not consider 'strong suspicion' to be sufficient for an arrest warrant,’’ Kavala said, referring to his case and many others.

"In our country, the situation is different. When the prosecutor's office refers to an offence which requires a heavy penalty, the judge feels, in a sense, obliged to give a prison sentence".

Kavala highlighted the thousands of people in jail who are still waiting on their indictments following their arrest in the post-July 15, 2016 crackdown by the Turkish government.

"The number of imprisoned people waiting for their indictments in uncertainty as I am is not low, which points to an imbalance in the mechanism of a fair trial. Unless the presumption of innocence is embraced as the key element of the judicial process from the beginning, this imbalance will persist."

"Since the presumption of innocence is a key element of the right to a fair trial, the norms of the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) do not consider 'strong doubt' to be sufficient for an arrest warrant, which is an extraordinary measure, and require that concrete evidence be sought.

"In our country, the situation is different. When the Prosecutor's Office refers to an offence which requires a heavy penalty, the judge feel, so to speak, obliged to give a prison sentence".

"These rulings issued without sufficient evidence also have an impact on the process of indictment preparation. The efforts to justify a prison sentence with the help of evidence collected after the arrest renders this process long and problematic.

"The longer it takes to prepare an indictment, the longer the period of arrest lasts. In that case, the cost of the time, when the suspects are deprived of their freedom in relation to the penalty to be imposed on them later on, reaches an irreparable level,'' he wrote.

President and Justice and Development Party (AKP) leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has referred to Kavala as the "George Soros of Turkey."

Kavala’s detention has sparked criticism on an international level with names like U.S. thinker and linguist Noam Chomsky, United States Department of State Spokesperson Heather Nauert and European Parliament Rapporteur for Turkey Kati Piri all demanding his immediate release.