Top human rights groups appeal to Council of Europe for release of Osman Kavala

Turkish businessman and human rights activist Osman Kavala has been in prison since October 2017.

Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists and the Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project filed a joint submission with the Committee of Ministers, the decision-making body of the Council of Europe (CoE), on May 29, 2020, and requested that the CoE urge the Turkish government to release human rights defender Osman Kavala and drop all charges against him.

The three organizations said in its submission that the Committee of Ministers should issue a decision at its June 4 meeting directing Turkey to release Kavala.

The Committee of Ministers oversees enforcement of European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgments.

Kavala, a businessman and civil rights activist, was accused of attempting to overthrow the Turkish government 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. On May 12 the Strasbourg court rejected an appeal from the Turkish government with which the court’s ruling became final. Turkey, however, refused to abide by the ruling.

“In the absence of facts, information or evidence showing that Mr. Kavala had been involved in criminal activity, he could not reasonably be suspected of having attempted to overthrow the Government by force or violence,” the court had said in its ruling.

The ECtHR further found that Kavala’s detention was aimed at silencing him, adding that it was “likely to have a dissuasive effect on the work of human rights defenders.”

The prominent activist was acquitted of charges in the Gezi Park trial on February 18, only to be re-arrested of few hours later on charges related to a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey in a newly launched case.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called the jailed businessman the “Turkish Soros,” a reference to Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros, who is the target of international conspiracies on organizing public protests aimed at overthrowing governments.

The three human rights groups said Turkey continues to violate Kavala’s rights by flouting the ECtHR’s landmark judgment, which became final on May 12 and called for his immediate release.

“The sequence of court orders prolonging his detention and the lack of objective deliberation as to the legality of any deprivation of liberty indicates that decisions have been guided by political expediency and there has been a concerted political effort to prevent Kavala’s release,” the joint submission said.

The rights groups demanded that Kavala’s case be placed under enhanced procedures and treated as a leading case. They further urged the Committee of Ministers to call for the immediate release of Kavala.

They called on the Committee of Minister to urge Turkey to “[a]mend broad and vaguely worded articles of the Turkish Penal Code and the Law No. 3713 on Prevention of Terrorism such as ‘attempted overthrow of the government by force and violence,’ ‘attempted overthrow of the constitutional order’ and other offenses categorized as ‘crimes against the state’ to meet the requirements of the principle of no punishment without law, to make them precisely defined and foreseeable and, where relevant, explicitly linked to the commission of violent acts.”

Turkey should “[s]top the abuse of judicial process to harass or persecute human rights defenders by ending unwarranted legal, including criminal, and administrative proceedings or any other forms of misuse of administrative and judicial authority, to criminalize, arbitrarily arrest and detain defenders,” the three NGOs added.

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