Osman Kavala's wife says trial process makes trusting Turkey's justice difficult

Faced with the prosecutor in Osman Kavala’s trial seeking life in prison for the Turkish philanthropist, developments in the legal proceedings has made trusting justice in Turkey difficult, Kavala’s wife and renowned academic Ayşe Buğra said in an interview by news site Duvar on Friday.

The prosecutor’s demand is “frightening and incredulous,” Buğra said. “These are times when I’m losing my trust in the legal process altogether.”

Osman Kavala has been in pre-trial detention since November 2017 on charges of attempting to overthrow the Turkish government for allegedly organising the Gezi Park protests of 2013, and is the only one of the 16 suspects who remains in prison.

The suspects, including activists, lawyers, journalists and actors, are facing a total of 47,520 years in prison for their alleged involvement in the protests, which started as a small sit-in in May 2013 against the demolition of one of the last remaining green spaces in central Istanbul but quickly evolved into the biggest anti-government protests since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002.

It was possible that Kavala was being used as a tool for anti-Western sentiment and a desire to completely break away from Europe, Buğra said.

“I do not think that the case against Osman and the others is a cause championed by the state,” Buğra said. “I cannot say that. I could maybe interpret it as a conflict among some cliques within the state.” 

Turkey, a founding member of the Council of Europe, is and has been a part of Europe, Buğra said, and completely cutting Turkey off of Europe “would be a radical rupture. This case should be seen from this perspective in part, and taken seriously.”

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in December last year that Turkey was infringing on Kavala’s right to liberty and security, and called for his immediate release, but Turkey has not complied.

International human rights organisations have condemned the trial, calling it “an example of the government’s punishment of dissent and is part of a broader crackdown on civil society,” while the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights said it was “politically motivated and legally baseless.”

The trial proceeds as if the defendants never said anything, “as if we were in a psychological thriller,” Buğra said. 

“I wish everybody could follow the hearings,” she added. “Truly strange things happen.”

In one of the five hearings to date, two witnesses called by the prosecution testified that they did not know many of the defendants, and did not witness any violent acts or incitement from any of the ones that they did know, Buğra recounted. “Nevermind the pages upon pages of defence submitted by the suspects and their lawyers, the prosecutor (proceeded) with no regard to its own witnesses.”

The panel of judges on the case was changed three times, Buğra continued, and the judge who voted for the release of Kavala was removed from the case. The incoming judge ruled for the continuation of Kavala’s arrest. “These things happen this blatantly,” Buğra said. “There isn’t even a concern to make it look like by the book.”

Kavala has inspired trust in many during his civil society efforts, because he is not on the side of any party or political entity, Buğra said. “The hardest part for me is that I end up having to prove that my husband was a good man, did righteous things.”