Amnesty International urges Council of Europe to launch infringement proceedings against Turkey

Photo collage: SCF, Photo: coe.int

Amnesty International on Friday called on member states of the Council of Europe (CoE) to institute infringement proceedings against Turkey for failing to implement a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the case of businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala.

“As heads of state of Council of Europe member states, you have a crucial role to play,” Amnesty Europe Director Nils Muižnieks said in an open letter. “At stake is the freedom of Osman Kavala, a human rights defender who is arbitrarily detained in Europe’s largest maximum security Silivri prison in İstanbul, as a consequence of barely disguised political persecution for over four years, confronted daily with the crushing reality of a judicial system unwilling and unable to serve him justice.”

A Turkish court on Friday extended the imprisonment of Kavala, whose case caused a diplomatic crisis with the US and other Western countries after they called for his release. Kavala, 64, has been incarcerated without being convicted for more than four years, prompting claims of political persecution against the businessman amid international criticism of Ankara’s crackdown on opponents.

The ambassadors of 10 countries, including the US, Germany and France, last month demanded Kavala’s immediate release in line with a 2019 ECtHR ruling. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to expel the envoys before backing down.

The court’s decision comes despite a binding judgment of the ECtHR in December 2019 finding that Kavala’s detention for allegedly directing and financing the Gezi Park protests of 2013 and for alleged involvement in the failed coup of July 2016 was in pursuance of an “ulterior motive,” that of silencing him as a human rights defender. The court found violations of the right to liberty (Article 5.1) and the right to a speedy judicial review of detention (Article 5.4) under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and that his detention involved a restriction of his rights for an improper purpose (Article 18). The court held that “the government must take every measure to put an end to the applicant’s detention and to secure his immediate release.”

Kavala is accused of funding nationwide anti-government protests in 2013 and helping orchestrate a coup attempt three years later. He denies the charges, which carry a life sentence without the chance of parole.

Kavala did not attend Friday’s hearing at the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court, having previously said his presence via video link from İstanbul’s Silivri Prison was “meaningless” and that a fair trial was “no longer possible.”

“Instead of releasing Osman Kavala, Turkey has used all sorts of dilatory measures, unacceptable for a state that claims to abide by human rights,” Muižnieks’ letter said. “It has repeatedly and falsely claimed the Court’s binding ruling had already been implemented; that Osman Kavala’s detention is under a different article of the penal code, Article 328 (‘espionage’) and not the ones that the Strasbourg Court had considered.”

In his letter Muižnieks said it was the collective responsibility of the heads of state of CoE member states to uphold the convention system and its values.

“Turkey’s persistent refusal to implement the judgment of the Court further exacerbates the impunity for the gross violation of Osman Kavala’s right to freedom found by the Court,”  the letter said. “The Council of Europe and its member states must do their utmost to ensure that Osman Kavala is released and that the Convention system can function effectively with respect for the binding judgments of the Court.”

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