Kavala, Barkey indictment shows Turkey’s flagrant misuse of courts, rights groups say

A new Turkish indictment demanding three life sentences for human rights defender and businessman Osman Kavala and U.S. academic Henri Barkey for allegedly spying and attempting to overthrow Turkey’s constitutional order is politically motivated and legally untenable, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists said on Monday.

“The new case against Osman Kavala and Henri Barkey demonstrates the Turkish authorities’ flagrant misuse of the courts for political ends and their fundamental disregard for the basic principles of criminal justice,” Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a report.

Kavala and Barkey are accused by Turkish prosecutors of espionage and “attempting through force and violence to overthrow the constitutional order of the Republic of Turkey or introduce a different order or prevent this order”, according to a 64-page indictment dated Sept. 28.

Prosecutors say the crimes were committed in the lead up to a failed military coup in 2016, which Turkey says was masterminded by the Islamist movement of Fethullah Gülen, who resides in the United States. Turkey has designated the group as a terrorist organisation and refers to it by the acronym "FETÖ".

Kavala was acquitted of similar charges on Feb. 18 in the Gezi Trials, where he stood accused of funding and organising street protests that resulted in some four million Turkish citizens marching against the government in 2013. Kavala was re-arrested on charges of spying before he could be released from prison. He has spent over 1,000 days in jail since his detention on Nov. 1, 2017.

The indictment "recycles unsubstantiated accusations" that previously circulated in the pro-government Turkish media, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists said. It provides no credible evidence linking them to any criminal activities, they said.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in December last year that Kavala’s rights to liberty and security had been violated by his detention. The ECHR also said that his arrest had been made for ulterior purposes, “to silence him and dissuade other human rights defenders”.

“Defying the European Court of Human Rights order to release Kavala has confirmed the Court’s conclusion that Turkey is using detention and prosecution to silence a human rights defender,” Williamson said.

The promotion by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of a key prosecutor involved in the case against Kavala and Barkey raises suspicion of his office’s direct involvement.

On Oct. 16, Turkey’s Official Gazette published a presidential decree announcing that Hasan Yılmaz, the Istanbul deputy chief prosecutor whose name appears as the author of the indictment against Kavala and Barkey, had been promoted to the deputy justice minister. 

Yılmaz’s elevation to high office days after lending his name to the latest indictment of Kavala not only sends a strong message that Turkey’s presidency supports the indictment, but also gives credibility to concerns that it was prepared under the presidency’s instructions with Yılmaz rewarded for complying with executive orders, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists said.