Turkey’s main opposition leader visits Gezi trial defendants, calls for immediate release

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of Turkey’s main opposition the Republican People’s Party (CHP), visited Gezi Park trial defendants in Silivri’s Marmara Prison on Friday and called for their immediate release, criticizing the Turkish judiciary for being under the control of the executive branch of government, Turkish Minute reported.

The Gezi Park trial defendants were convicted of attempting to overthrow the Turkish government for their alleged role in the protests, which began over an urban development plan in central İstanbul and spread to other cities in Turkey.

Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals last month upheld a life sentence for prominent businessman and civil society leader Osman Kavala and 18-year prison sentences for human rights lawyer and Workers Party of Turkey (TİP) lawmaker Can Atalay, journalist and film producer Çiğdem Mater, city planner Tayfun Kahraman and filmmaker Mine Özerden.

Kılıçdaroğlu met with Atalay, Kavala and Kahraman.

Accompanied by CHP Deputy Chair Semra Dinçer, CHP Group Deputy Chair Ali Mahir Başarır and CHP Istanbul Provincial Chair Canan Kaftancıoğlu, Kılıçdaroğlu emphasized that no one should face legal action for their thoughts.

After the visit Kılıçdaroğlu made statements to the press in which he criticized the lack of justice in Turkey. He argued that if elected representatives such as Atalay are held in prison contrary to the constitution and law, it indicates a significant problem in the country.

Kılıçdaroğlu also took aim at the judiciary, stating it should not be under the control of the executive branch. He referred to this control as coming from “the palace,” a term often used to describe the Turkish presidency.

Kılıçdaroğlu urged the Constitutional Court to make a decision regarding the Gezi convicts. “The Constitutional Court needs to make a decision as soon as possible. Atalay and the others should be released immediately,” he said.

Atalay, also a human rights lawyer who has been jailed since April 2022, has not been released from prison although he was elected to parliament in the general election held in May, hence gaining parliamentary immunity.

The recent ruling by Turkey’s top court sparked international condemnation as well as protests across Turkey for being politically motivated.

Kavala’s plight, in particular, had soured relations between Ankara and Western nations, and a diplomatic crisis was triggered in 2021 when Turkey threatened to expel 10 Western ambassadors, including the US envoy, after they demanded Kavala’s release.

A leading figure in Turkey’s civil society, 66-year-old Kavala was born in Paris, educated in the UK and ran a cultural center before being thrust to prominence. He was accused of financing protests against the government of then-prime minister and current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during the large-scale protests in 2013 and involvement in a failed military coup in 2016.

President Erdoğan has made no secret of his dislike of Kavala, branding him the “red Soros of Turkey” because he also headed US philanthropist George Soros’s Open Society Foundation in Turkey.

Turkey has refused to release Kavala despite a 2019 European Court of Human Rights ruling that found his detention was in pursuance of an “ulterior motive,” that of silencing him as a human rights defender. The non-implementation of the ruling prompted the CoE Committee of Ministers to launch an infringement procedure against Turkey in February 2022, which is still ongoing.

TİP chair Erkan Baş and lawmakers Sera Kadıgil and Ahmet Şık on Sunday launched a march from the southern province of Hatay to the Turkish capital city of Ankara to protest the upholding of the convictions of the five Gezi Park trial defendants. The march is expected to take a month as the distance between Hatay and Ankara is around 700 kilometers (434 miles).

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