U.S. could help free Turkey's most eminent prisoner of conscience - analyst

It is time for Washington to exert pressure on Ankara on behalf of Osman Kavala, Turkey’s highest-profile prisoner of conscience, wrote Aykan Erdemir,  senior director of the Turkey Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in Newsweek magazine on Monday. 

Erdemir called for the adoption of the philanthropist by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), whose pressure worked in releasing U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson in Oct. 2018 after two years of detention on terrorism and espionage charges.

The Turkish businessman was re-arrested on espionage charges in February, just hours after a court acquitted him and eight other defendants over the 2013 nationwide Gezi Park protests.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s targeting of Kavala, as was the case with Brunson, stems from religious intolerance and bigotry, the analyst wrote, recalling Erdoğan’s labelling of Kavala as a "terror financier" linked to "famous Hungarian Jew (George) Soros."

Brunson was jailed for for allegedly supporting the Gülen movement - the followers of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, a charge the pastor denied. Turkey maintains that the group is responsible for the failed coup attempt.

"Kavala's secular profile makes it even more important for a USCIRF commissioner to adopt the philanthropist as a prisoner of conscience,’’ Erdemir wrote.

Such a move "would send a strong message that persecuted secular individuals are not alone as they face intense pressure not only from their governments but also from their own communities,’’ he said.