Turkey’s jailed philanthropist hits back at Cumhuriyet columnist for ungrounded accusations

Turkish businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, who has been in prison for more than a year, responded to a Cumhuriyet daily columnists for what he said were inaccurate and unfounded criticisms, Diken news site reported on Saturday.

Kavala was first detained by police in October 2017 and was later officially arrested on charges of trying to overthrow the government and the constitutional order.

Though the prosecutors have not prepared an indictment on his case yet, the Turkish government and the pro-government media have portrayed the philanthropist as the financier and the mastermind of the 2013 Gezi Park protests, the biggest anti-government demonstrations since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said last week that Kavala had conducted propaganda against Turkey abroad and supported terrorist activities. He also said that Kavala was backed by Hungarian-American investor and philanthropist George Soros, which Erdoğan called the Jewish Soros. 

Bartu Soral, a columnist with Cumhuriyet daily, criticised this week his newspaper’s reports on human rights violations of some high-profile prisoners in Turkey, including Kavala and jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş. 

Soral noted that although prolonged pre-trial detentions in Turkey violated the human rights of the prisoners, keeping Kavala as a hot topic by continuous coverage, drew an image of the philanthropist as if an “innocent man.” 

His criticism also fuelled a heated debate among other columnists of the daily, which still continues.

Soral said Kavala was one of the members of the “Wise People Commission” established by the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during a peace process in Turkey that started in 2013 and ended in 2015. The commission at the time was responsible of aiding a peaceful transition for the solution of the Kurdish-Turkish conflict through dialogue with the members of the civil society across the country. 

Kavala was among those that had asked the Turkish government to deepen the Ergenekon investigations during which 275 people, including military officers, journalists and lawmakers had been arrested and put into trial for being a member of an organisation that aimed to overthrow the government, Soral added.

The Turkish government, who at the time supported the Ergenekon investigations, now see them as a plot of the Gülen movement, which Ankara accuses of masterminding a coup attempt in 2016. 

Soral added that the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an armed group at war in Turkey for over 30 years, Abdullah Öcalan, once had sent his regards to Kavala from İmrali island, where he is serving a life sentence, during the peace process and had selected him as one of the members of a ‘Dialogue Group’ that had been established for the peace efforts.

Soral said that Kavala had also worked as a manager in the Turkish branch of the Open Society Foundation, an international NGO established by Soros. 

“I feel myself obliged to correct the disinformation created due to my respect to Cumhuriyet newspapers sensitivity to provide its readers with accurate information,” Kavala said at the beginning of his letter he penned from his prison cell to reply to Soral.

Kavala reminded that he was the one who had organised a meting in 2010 to allow Pınar Dogan and Dani Rodrik, the daughter and son-in-low general Çetin Doğan, to share the irregularities and incorrect information they had detected in the files of what is known as the Sledgehammer case, which ran parallel to Ergenekon trials. Doğan was one of the members of the Turkish military jailed under the Sledgehammer investigation for attempting to organise a coup to overthrow the Turkish government. 

Kavala said that he had signed a petition calling on the Turkish government to deepen the Ergenekon investigations, but this call had not implied further pressure on journalists, academics, and civil society activists, but had asked the government to uncover extra-judicial killings in Turkey and criminal groups within the state apparatus. 

Kavala said that he had never served as a member of the Wise People Commission, adding that the dialogue group Soral mentioned had been an independent initiative established by a group of civil society activists to aid the process and Öcalan could only have heard of this initiative from his prison cell. 

Kavala also said that he had been a member of the advisory board of the Open Society Foundation Turkey for some time, adding that the activities of the institution and the projects it supported in Turkey had been shared on its web-site. Kavala said Open Society Foundation in Turkey had always kept its distance with political actors and had repeatedly proved that it had had no links to Gezi Park protests. 

“Seeing Bartu Soral making severe allegations based on incorrect and imperfect information without any research, makes me think that not enough importance attached in our country to the detention practices that violate legal norms,” Kavala said.