'Political messages play a significant role in my detention' - Osman Kavala

Last week the European Court of Human Rights rejected an appeal by Turkey against a ruling that called for the immediate release of jailed Turkish philanthropist and businessman Osman Kavala.

Kavala has been imprisoned since November 2017, facing charges of conspiracy to overthrow the Turkish government. Prosecutors accused him of masterminding the anti-government Gezi Park protests of 2013.

In February, Kavala was cleared of charges related to the nationwide protests, only to be re-arrested the following day on espionage charges related to the July 2016 failed coup attempt.

Speaking from prison, Kavala gave an interview to the Greek newspaper Ethnos about his ongoing plight, political influences in the Turkish judiciary, the need for democratisation, and his support from friends in Greece. The interview is republished here in full.

You have spoken out about “organised efforts to extend your imprisonment”. Where do these “efforts” stem from and what are they trying to achieve?

The fact that I was arrested on three different charges one after another – though I was acquitted from one – cannot be explained by the routine functioning of the judiciary, so it demonstrates a form of coordination among the prosecutors who issue these arrest warrants. I think the extrajudicial political messages and cues play a significant role in the continuation of my detention.

A “parallel” system of execution is carried out through utilisation of unlawful arrests, and the operation of this system is determined by political stances. This practice can be considered as a form of “enemy law”, and I cannot fully comprehend the reasons behind my designation as the enemy. It might be due to my efforts regarding human rights, minority rights and minority issues, or my relations with the democratic European institutions and organisations.

Do you still, after 31 months in prison, retain faith in Turkish institutions? Can these institutions restore their democratic respect and legitimacy?

It would not be accurate to conclude that the entire judiciary is under political influence and is ruptured from legal norms. We still witness rulings made in accordance with universal legal principles, especially by the higher courts as the Court of Cassation and the Constitutional Court. Yet, the rate of being under the influence of political discourse is quite high among the recently appointed prosecutors and judges in lower courts.

This situation tarnishes the legitimacy of the judicial processes, therefore weakens the trust in judiciary. Unfortunately, since the media and the universities are subjected to serious control and their capacity to raise autonomous criticism is restricted, no substantial reaction can be raised against the norm erosion in the judiciary. Unfortunately again, under the new regime, neither the parliament nor the parliamentary commissions are able to tackle the serious judicial issues effectively. 

Can Turkey change course? What is it that needs to be done?

In order to be able to change course, there is a need for the development of a political environment where human rights, fundamental freedoms, and universal legal norms are well-respected. And for this to occur, there is a need for taking a meaningful step towards democratisation with the participation of all who believe in these values regardless of their political views.

What about the messages of support you have received, both from Turkey and from the outside world?

The messages of support I received from my friends, from people I know and from people I have never met have been a great source of morale for me. Supportive messages I received from abroad have also been very valuable to me in terms of showing that people who advocate for the rule of law and democracy in fact share same sensitivity and sense of belonging. I believe this sensitivity will also contribute to the democratisation of our country.

Is there a message you would to send out to Greeks? 

As a person who has strived for the amelioration of the relations between Turkey and Greece and made efforts to contribute to the rapprochement of the peoples of two countries for many years, I am deeply pleased with Ethnos’ interest in my situation. I am also honoured to be bestowed as the honorary citizen of Kavala, the city of origin for my family.

It was very valuable for me that a delegation from Kavala attended my hearing [of Gezi trial]. I am looking forward to visiting your beautiful country and getting together with the good friends there as soon as this absurdity is over. I hope that humanity derives the necessary lessons from the coronavirus pandemic and our countries realise an equalitarian and liberated social and political system. I send my regards from Silivri prison to all the friends in Greece.