Turkey must free civil society leader Osman Kavala - rights groups

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch renewed on Wednesday their call for the immediate and unconditional release of Turkish civil society leader Osman Kavala, who marked one year in Turkey’s top security prison. 

The international human rights organisations said there was still no indictment outlining the precise charges against Kavala and neither he nor his family or lawyers had been shown the evidence to back up the vague allegations which formed the basis of his detention.

Kavala was first detained by police on Oct. 18, 2017 at Istanbul’s Atatürk airport as he arrived on a flight from the eastern province of Gaziantep, where he supported projects for Syrian refugees. 

He was later officially arrested on charges of trying to overthrow the government and the constitutional order.

Following his arrest, a smear campaign was mounted against him in the pro-government media using details leaked from the investigation, the two rights groups said. “These media reports alleged that Osman Kavala was questioned about having links with the alleged organisers of the July 2016 failed coup attempt; one year on, no credible evidence has been provided to substantiate these baseless allegations,” they said.

Turkish pro-government media also said that Kavala had financed the 2013 Gezi Park protests, the biggest anti-government demonstrations since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002.

Kavala has dedicated his life to promoting civil society and culture in Turkey and provided support  to human rights organisations and helped establish a number of civil society organisations, the rights groups said. 

“His civil society activism has as its main goal the building of bridges between people from different regions in Turkey, as well as bridges across to Europe, especially in the early days of Turkey’s EU accession efforts,” they said. 

The detention of Kavala is only one example of the harsh crackdown by the government of Turkey on its critics, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said.