A Turkish court on Friday began the retrial of philanthropist Osman Kavala and 15 others for their roles in the 2013 nationwide protests, a growing case that critics and even Ankara’s Western allies say aims to overturn the dissent.
Kavala and eight others accused of staging the Gezi Park protests, which began in Istanbul, were acquitted of all charges in February 2020, but an appeals court overturned the ruling in January.
Kavala, a prominent prisoner held for three and a half years, is also accused of being involved in an attempted coup in 2016. These charges were combined with the Gezi case in February.
The judge on Friday asked for the records of another Gezi-related case against 35 members of a support group for football champions Besiktas. The court decides to merge the two cases after the 2015 fans’ acquittal was overturned on appeal last month.
Kavala told the court via video link that the proposal to merge the two cases reflected a political strategy that sought to ignore the evidence.
“Because merging different cases makes it difficult to focus on actions, it is a useful method in political affairs to create perception,” he said.
The court rejected a request for Kavala’s release and set the next hearing for August 6.
The European Court of Human Rights requested in 2019 the release of Kavala on the grounds that the detention was intended to silence him. But Turkey has not complied with the decision despite repeated appeals from the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers.
The United States also called for his release in February.
Critics say Turkey’s judicial system has been exploited to punish alleged opponents of President Tayyip Erdogan, especially in a crackdown after the 2016 coup attempt. The president and his AK party say the courts make independent decisions.
“Every phase of this case is riddled with injustices, inconsistencies and illogical and illegal procedures,” said a campaign group called Free Osman Kavala.
The cases of seven other people who were overseas during the original trial were re-joined this month for the retrial.
Some of the defendants were also acquitted in 2015 of charges related to the Gezi protests, meaning they are on trial for the same events for the third time.
Gezi’s protests in the summer of 2013 began as a protest against the redevelopment of a park in Istanbul, a city with limited green space, and quickly spread across the country.
Erdogan, then Turkish prime minister, dismissed the idea that they were motivated by the environment and said they aimed to overthrow his government. The defendants deny the charges against them.
The indictment calls for life sentences without parole for the defendants, who are accused of trying to overthrow the government and fund protests, among other charges.
Responding to Reuters questions in March, Kavala said: “The claim that I planned, directed and funded the Gezi protests was extremely fantastic.”
Allegations that he was involved in the 2016 coup attempt “are much more absurd,” Kavala added. “These are truly surrealist fiction. They are impossible to falsify because they are not based on any evidence, fact or reality.”
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.