Turkish court upholds rights leader’s life sentence

A Turkish appellate court on Wednesday upheld the conviction of a leading critic of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose incarceration has injected tension into Ankara’s ties with the West, Agence France-Presse reported.

Paris-born activist and philanthropist Osman Kavala was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in April on conviction of attempting to overthrow the government by financing street protests in 2013.

Seven others were jailed for 18 years each for aiding the attempt to overthrow the government of then-prime minister Erdoğan during the so-called Gezi Park rallies in İstanbul.

The Anadolu news agency said the appellate court ruled that the April verdict “complied with the law.”

The defense can still appeal the case at Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals.

Kavala’s years-long trial has damaged NATO member Turkey’s strategic but sometimes uneasy ties with its main Western allies since his unexpected arrest in October 2017.

Kavala was then best known as a soft-spoken businessman who was spending part of his wealth on promoting culture and projects aimed at reconciling Turkey and its arch-nemesis Armenia.

But Erdoğan portrayed him as a leftist agent of the Hungarian-born US billionaire George Soros who was using foreign money to try and overthrow the state.

Kavala was first charged with funding the wave of 2013 protests that some analysts view as the genesis of Erdoğan’s more authoritarian posture in the latter half of his two-decade rule.

A court acquitted and released him in February 2020 — only for the police to arrest him before he had a chance to return home to his wife.

Another court then accused him of involvement in a 2016 coup attempt against Erdoğan in which more than 250 died in İstanbul and Ankara.

Kavala ultimately ended up facing both sets of charges.

The court convicted him of the same set of charges of which he had been cleared in 2020.

The US said it was “deeply troubled” by the ruling, while Germany demanded his immediate release.

Turkey has already ignored a European Court of Human Rights ruling recommending Kavala’s release.

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