In a tribute to prominent jailed Turkish civil society activist Osman Kavala, Anthony Barnett – the co-founder of campaign groups Charter 88, the Convention on Modern Liberty and openDemocracy – said Kavala’s incarceration was an indicator that there was no room left for democratic action in today’s Turkey.
“Osman Kavala represents Turkish civil society as a whole and the secular half of his country too, in a special way,” he wrote.
Osman Kavala was arrested on Oct. 18 on charges of trying to overthrow the government and the constitutional order. The charges are largely based on his attendance at a workshop on the island of Büyükada, off Istanbul, organised by the Middle East studies wing of the U.S.-based Smithsonian Institution between July 15 and July 17, 2016, the same dates as a failed coup attempt. Several others involved with the meeting also face charges.
Kavala, Barnett said, was a patron of the arts, of archaeology and history, and of academia, as well as being a long-time advocate of liberty and the celebration of national minorities.
In many ways, Barnett wrote, “to jail Osman Kavala is to imprison democracy itself.”
Barnett, whose openDemocracy, like some of Kavala’s non-profit ventures, receives some of its funding from George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, said Kavala had been a man of good character and careful about demonstrating the legitimacy of his actions:
Only a force that is coldly and deliberately hostile, therefore, could conceivably regard Osman Kavala as an enemy to be physically punished and confined. Unfortunately, the president of the Turkish Republic has put himself at the head of such a force. Perpetrating a travesty of justice, the president described Kavala as funding a terrorist network even before charges were made.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Kavala had been trying to undermine Turkey, but Barnett said the Turkish activist had been using his inherited riches to try to improve the state of society:
He is exactly what all civilised societies need. A person who, thanks to being well off and well educated, who can dedicate their lives to the public good and understand the need to build access to culture and a sense of history.