Turkish court rejects Osman Kavala’s demand for release

A penal court in Istanbul has ruled for the continuation of Osman Kavala’s release on Friday, rejecting the Turkish philanthropist’s demand to be released in an earlier trial, Cumhuriyet newspaper reported.

Osman Kavala, originally arrested in 2017, is facing charges of political or military espionage and violating the constitution, together with former U.S. State Department employee and scholar Henri Barkey.

The court also ruled to combine another case Kavala is facing trial for, the Gezi Park protests, with the case against the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Kavala and Barkey are accused of obtaining and dissipating classified information on the state’s security and political interests, an accusation both deny. The prosecution demands life in prison for both, and an additional 20 years.

According to the indictment against the pair, “It can’t be explained as coincidence that our country has gone through critical times during Henri Jak Barkey’s visits to our country, as evidenced in the suspect’s statements.”

Although he now lives in the United States, he was born in Turkey according to the Turkish indictment.

“Barkey having coordinated and monitored the (coup) process is evidenced by him leaving behind in the hotel he stayed at an object that could be considered to be a signature for the perpetrators of the coup attempt,” the indictment said.

During the course of the investigation last year, a hotelier in Istanbul’s Büyükada island handed over to the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office a bell inscribed with the word, “Pennsylvania”, saying Barkey had left it behind, Hürriyet newspaper reported at the time.

Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen, who Turkey holds responsible for the coup attempt, has lived in Pennsylvania, United States for years in a self-imposed exile. Once closely allied with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), since 2013, Gülen and his followers have been accused of having formed a parallel state within Turkey.

Osman Kavala was “Henri Jak Barkey’s local collaborator regarding his acts of espionage,” and the pair was “determined to have acted together in participating in actions within the scope of preparing for the coup attempt,” the indictment continued.

In an interview with Ahval in October, Barkey said the indictment would “go into the annals of jurisprudence worldwide as probably the most ridiculous one,” as it had “no proof for any of the accusations,” and “everything they say is conjecture.”

A prominent piece of evidence for Barkey and Kavala working together to overthrow the government was that their phones had picked up signals from the same cell tower, in Beyoğlu, the bustling heart of Istanbul. Kavala’s offices, and the hotels Barkey prefers to stay at while visiting the city are located in this district.

“The Turkish government had one goal: To connect the United States to the coup attempt,” Barkey said in the same interview.

Earlier this week, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said Gülen “wasn’t behind the coup,” and later clarified that he meant to say the United States had been behind Gülen himself.

In February last year, Kavala had been acquitted of charges of attempting to overthrow the government in the Gezi Trial, where he and 15 other civil society figures faced trial over having organised the massive anti-government protests of 2013 that started over the planned demolition of their namesake Gezi Park in central Istanbul.

The combining of the Gezi trial with Kavala’s espionage trial “was expected,” freedom of speech advocate Media and Law Studies Association said in a tweet as the trial continued, as the acquittal was overturned by a higher court recently in January.

“It is impossible for any neutral observer who assesses what has happened in an objective way to fail to understand that the baseless espionage charge was constructed to void the ECHR ruling that I be released immediately,” Kavala said in court, following his defence statement. He continued:

“In the dearth of evidence to support the accusations, the prosecution has conflated conspiracy theories and legal accusations, making it appear that they are intertwined, and thus influencing the court.”

The accusations that go against logic and reason “can only be explained with a lack of good faith,” the philanthropist said. According to Kavala, the acquittal verdict in the Gezi Trial was overturned so he could be kept in prison longer.

Friday also saw Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan say the recently-escalated protests at Istanbul’s prestigious Boğaziçi University would not be allowed to turn into “another Gezi”, where the president drew comparisons over Kavala’s wife, prominent professor of political economy Ayşe Buğra.

Erdoğan said Kavala was a “representative” of Hungarian-American businessman George Soros who had “a veritable office for Soros in this country”, and “the wife of that man called Kavala” was among provocateurs in Boğaziçi.

“Will we tell them that they can take our country, our exceptional university and stir up whatever they want?” asked Erdoğan, speaking to reporters following Friday prayers. “They won’t be able to bring this matter to the same level a Gezi events.”

On Thursday, human rights ambassadors from eight European countries had called for Kavala’s release in a joint statement, repeating what European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and European Parliament said previously, that the philanthropist’s continued arrest was “politically motivated”.

The ECHR ruled for Kavala’s release in December 2019, but Turkish courts have refused to comply, adding to the discussions in the country over whether the top European court’s rulings were binding for the Turkish judiciary.

The Council of Europe requires member states to treat ECHR rulings as having precedence over local courts’, and Turkey’s own constitution states that international treaties signed by the country precede local laws.