Osman Kavala Turkey's biggest philanthropist jailed for life

Osman Kavala detained in Turkey since 2017

Osman Kavala

Turkey’s biggest philanthropist Osman Kavala was jailed for life without parole on Monday after he was convicted of trying to overthrow the government by financing protests.

Kavala, 64, had been in jail since 2017 without a conviction and denied the charges he faced over the Gezi protests, which began as small demonstrations in an Istanbul park in 2013 and snowballed into nationwide anti-government unrest.

The court also sentenced seven others to 18 years in jail each for aiding an attempt to overthrow the government and ordered their arrests.

The court said it decided to acquit Kavala of espionage charges due to lack of evidence.

The courtroom was packed with more than 200 people, including opposition members and rights activists, many of whom yelled and screamed slogans at the panel of judges in protest.

In his last words before the verdict, Kavala said the prosecutor’s request for a life sentence was based on “evidence that is not evidence” and amounted to “an act of assassination by use of the judiciary”.

Kavala played a major role developing Turkish civil society before he was detained in 2017, from a publishing house that aimed to foster social change after Turkey’s 1980 coup to boosting culture via his Anadolu Kultur organisation.

Responding to the conviction of Kavala and seven other defendants for aiding him, Nils Muiznieks, Amnesty International’s Europe Director, said:

“Today, we have witnessed a travesty of justice of spectacular proportions. This verdict deals a devastating blow not only to Osman Kavala, his co-defendants and their families, but to everyone who believes in justice and human rights activism in Turkey and beyond.”

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“The court’s decision defies all logic. (…) This unjust verdict shows that the Gezi trial was only an attempt to silence independent voices.”

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and activists have said the case is politically motivated and part of a crackdown on dissent under President Tayyip Erdogan – accusations the government dismisses.

The ECHR called for Kavala’s release in late 2019 and ruled his detention was meant to silence the philanthropist, whose civil society projects aimed to foster social change.

Ankara now faces being suspended from the Council of Europe rights watchdog, after infringement proceedings were launched due to his continued detention.

Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey representative for Human Rights Watch, said the verdict was an “active defiance against the Council of Europe”.

Embassies of Turkey’s Western allies, including the United States and Germany, echoed the call for Kavala’s release last year, prompting threats by Erdogan to expel their ambassadors.

Erdogan has likened the Gezi protesters to Kurdish militants and those accused of orchestrating a failed 2016 coup.

He has accused Kavala of trying to overthrow the government, saying Western allies would not release “bandits, murderers and terrorists” in their countries.

Kavala was acquitted in 2020 of charges related to the Gezi protests. Hours later another court ordered his arrest on a charge of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order related to the coup attempt

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