Gezi trial shambles shows abysmal state of rule of law in Turkey

The acquittal of Turkish civil society activist Osman Kavala this week on charges of attempting to overthrow the government by organising 2013 Gezi Park protests and his absurd re-arrest the same day on coup-charges shows the abysmal state of the rule of law in Turkey, said Marc Pierini, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels.

A court acquitted nine defendants on Tuesday, including Kavala, of charges of attempting to violently overthrow the government by masterminding the biggest anti-government demonstrations the country has seen since the Justice and Development Party came to power in 2002.

The acquittals led to a “brief moment of optimism,” said Pierini a former EU ambassador to Turkey.

"But the immediate re-arrest a few hours later of Osman Kavala, a businessman and human rights activist, under a different motive - that of ‘attempting to overthrow the constitutional order’ through the July 2016 military coup attempt - wiped out the optimism, isolating Turkey further,” he said. 

“It was clear from the beginning that the Gezi trial was faked,” Pierini said, referring to the more than a year Kavala spent in pre-trial detention without an indictment, the lack of evidence and the spurious charges.

“From the beginning, the Gezi trial has been a political trial of the worst kind, a symbol of the abysmal dismantlement of the rule of law in Turkey, and an epitome of the leadership’s never-ending crushing of individual freedoms as a tool to assert political dominance,” Pierini said.

The Gezi trial hearings were consistently handled unfairly, Pierini said, but in the past few weeks, the penal court had accelerated the proceedings in order to spare the government from having to comply with a December judgment by the European Court of Human Rights that called for Kavala’s immediate release. 

“From an EU standpoint, the rule of law in Turkey is still being dismantled day after day,” the former diplomat said. “The issue for European leaders is how to factor this democratic decline in their overall relationship with the country.”

“As for the European Union, Turkey’s initiatives, especially the Kavala case, require unity and steadfastness,” he said, adding that “turning the other cheek is not a policy fit for such grave circumstances.”