Jailed activist Kavala opposed Gülen movement while it was government ally - columnist

Turkish businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala is still being held in prison despite his acquittal this month because of new charges linking him to a banned religious movement accused of plotting a coup attempt in July 2016.

But Kavala has never been close to the Gülen religious movement, and made his suspicions about the secretive group clear long before it came to blows with the Turkish government, journalist Sedat Ergin said in a column for Hürriyet newspaper.

Kavala was arrested in October 2017, but it took Turkish prosecutors until March 2019 to submit an indictment accusing the businessman and 15 others of attempting to overthrow the government by organising anti-government protests in 2013.

The defendants were acquitted of those charges on Feb. 18, but before Kavala could be released, fresh charges were brought linking him to the July 15, 2016 coup attempt that the Turkish government blames on cadres of Gülenists embedded in the military and the state.

But Ergin said the conversations he had held with Kavala after the coup attempt showed no sign of affinity towards the movement, with the businessman instead concerned that the journalist’s critical articles about the Gülen movement should be translated into English for a wider audience.

Kavala’s concerns about the Gülenists date back far before the coup attempt to a period when many people considered the group to be allies of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, Ergin said.

In the AKP’s early years in power, its main rivals came from secularist circles who had controlled the military and state institutions for decades. Many of these secularists became the subject of expansive investigations into supposed criminal organisations that were accused of plotting coup attempts against the AKP.

The investigations led to the arrests of thousands of military officers and public figures and broke the secularists’ power, but analyses of the ensuing trials showed that much of the evidence had been falsified. The sentences were later overturned and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blamed Gülenist prosecutors and police officers for what he came to admit had been political trials.

But long before Erdoğan’s rift with the Gülenists turned the group into a prime public enemy, Kavala had spoken out against the investigations its members had spearheaded and led moves to counter the accusations against secularists, Ergin said.

His criticisms included writing and co-authoring articles on the inconsistencies in the trials, as well as criticising human rights abuses against the accused and bringing together intellectuals to research the cases against them.

“Osman Kavala has from an early date approached the Gülen movement with reservations, and has consistently followed a distant, critical line particularly since its illegal activities in the police force and judiciary were exposed,” he said.