CoE Committee of Ministers urges Turkish authorities to immediately release Kavala

In a resolution adopted on Thursday, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (CoE), the organization’s statutory decision-making body, expressed profound concern that Turkish human rights activist and philanthropist Osman Kavala has been continuously deprived of his liberty since October 2017 and strongly urged Turkish authorities to assure his immediate release.

The committee recalled a finding by the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECtHR) that Kavala’s arrest and pre-trial detention took place in the absence of evidence to support a reasonable suspicion he had committed an offense.

Kavala was arrested in İstanbul on October 18, 2017 on charges of attempting to overthrow the government and the constitutional order by orchestrating and financing the 2013 Gezi Park protests, which led to his eventual imprisonment.

The ECtHR on December 10, 2019 found a violation upon reviewing Kavala’s application, calling for his immediate release. The judgment ruled that the evidence on which Kavala was detained for the Gezi protests and a 2016 coup attempt was insufficient and agreed that Kavala’s detention and the charges against him “pursued an ulterior purpose, namely, to silence him as a human rights defender, to dissuade others from taking part in such activities and to paralyse Turkey’s civil society.” Turkey, however, refused to abide by the ruling.

In February Kavala and eight other defendants were acquitted of charges of attempting to overthrow the state through their involvement in the nationwide Gezi protests. After spending more than two years in İstanbul’s Silivri Prison, the judge said there was “not enough concrete evidence” against the accused.

However, just hours before he was released, the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued a detention warrant for Kavala on charges related to the failed coup.

An İstanbul prosecutor in October demanded an aggravated life sentence for Kavala as part of the investigation accusing him of “political espionage” in addition to “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.”

The CoE’s Committee of Ministers, tasked with monitoring the implementation of ECtHR judgments, had considered the court’s judgment on Kavala for the first time in September 2020 and called for his immediate release.

Following the CoE’s statement, Amnesty International’s Europe Director Nils Muižnieks said, “[T]oday’s resolution demanding his immediate release sends a clear message to the Turkish authorities that his continued imprisonment cannot and will not be tolerated.”

Muižnieks underlined that the refusal of Turkish authorities to comply with the ruling and Kavala’s continued imprisonment were unlawful. “Each day Osman Kavala spends behind bars is yet another confirmation of the ulterior motive behind his imprisonment,” he added.

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