Turkey’s top court rejects jailed philanthropist Kavala’s appeal

Updated with new comments 

Turkey’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday ruled against an appeal made by Turkish philanthropist and activist Osman Kavala, who has been in prison more than 18 months on charges of trying to overthrow the government, Diken news site reported.

The court rejected the appeal despite a case rapporteur’s assessment that Kavala’s rights had been violated. Kavala entered pre-trial detention in November 2017, while Turkish prosecutors did not complete his indictment until this March, 16 months later. 

“The European Court of Human Rights should decide urgently on Kavala's application and should seriously review the position of the Constitutional Court as an effective remedy,” academic and cyber rights activist Yaman Akdeniz said in a tweet following the court’s decision. 

For years, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and rights watchdogs have criticised Ankara’s long pre-trial detentions, which have become common since the failed 2016 coup.

Kavala submitted his appeal application in 2017, arguing that his rights had been violated as the detention had been unlawful, he had been barred from accessing the case file, and he was taken into custody without a court decision.

Turkey’s top court postponed the review Kavala’s application for almost two years and with an unexpected move, which according to some was a tactic to prevent a rights violation decision of the ECHR, a camber of the Constitutional Court examined the case on Apr. 3.  

Turkish prosecutors seek for Kavala and 15 other suspects, including actors, lawyers, activists and journalists, a total of 47,520 years in prison on charges of attempting to overthrow the government by organising the 2013 Gezi protests, the biggest demonstrations against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan since he came to power in 2003.

Kavala is accused of organising the protests by sponsoring sedition through his non-profit organisation Anadolu Kültür, set up to support peace and democracy through arts and culture, and his ties to the local branch of the Open Society Foundation, established by American-Hungarian investor George Soros

Social media efforts to draw attention to the Gezi trial have intensified in the past week, as the first hearing, scheduled for June 24, nears. 

Orhan Sarıbal, deputy chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) criticised the Constitutional Court on Twitter for rejecting the violation of rights appeal. “They ended all together the rule of law in the country,” he said. 

“Today’s inexplicable decision by Turkey’s highest court rubs salt into the wound of injustice. Osman Kavala’s rights have been abused. He should not have spent a single day behind bars, let alone nearly 600 days. The charges against him must be dropped and he must be immediately released,” said Amnesty International’s Turkey Campaigner Milena Büyüm.

“The decision today utterly goes against everything that the court was established to do by taking individual applications,” Büyüm said in a podcast with Ahval. Büyüm said the ruling of the court was shocking as in similar cases it had handed decisions that had shown rights violations. 

Turkish lawyer and former Istanbul Bar Association chair Turgut Kazan told Bianet news site that  by rejecting the application of Kavala, the court had once again showed that it did not act like a legal institution.

"One or two people form the Constitutional Court and a number of people from the Supreme Election Council (YSK) are arrested. They are facing dozens of years in prison. It means that the [ruling] Justice and Development Party (AKP) has taken both the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Election Council captive. Everyone should see this,” Kazan said. 

© Ahval English

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