Rights groups say Council of Europe should instruct Turkey to free Kavala

Three human rights groups on Tuesday called for the Council of Europe’s Committee to instruct Turkey to release jailed Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala and drop all charges against him.

Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists, and the Turkish Human Rights Litigation Support Project said the committee ministers should urge Kavala's release at its upcoming meeting.

“The Committee of Ministers, at its June 4 meeting, should press Turkey to comply and issue a clear message that no Council of Europe member state should be silencing human rights defenders,” Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey director at Human Rights Watch, said.

Kavala has been imprisoned since November 2017, over charges of conspiring to overthrow the Turkish government. Prosecutors accused him of masterminding the Gezi Park protests of 2013, Turkey’s biggest anti-government demonstrations since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) party came to power in 2002.

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.

“The sequence of court orders prolonging his detention and the lack of objective deliberation as to the lawfulness of any deprivation of liberty indicates that decisions have been guided by political considerations and there has been a concerted official effort to prevent Kavala’s release,” Róisín Pillay, director of the Europe and Central Asia Programme of the International Commission of Jurists, said.

The failure to release Kavala and drop all charges against him have reinforced "a chilling environment" for all human rights defenders in Turkey, said Ayşe Bingöl Demir, co-director of the Turkish Human Rights Litigation Support Project.