Apr 26, 2022
An Istanbul court on Monday sentenced Turkish civil rights activist and philanthropist Osman Kavala to aggravated life in prison, setting off a wave of strong global condemnation.
"This egregious sentence is a death knell for Turkey's democracy."
"We have witnessed a travesty of justice of spectacular proportions," said Nils Muiznieks, Amnesty International's Europe director.
"This verdict deals a devastating blow not only to Osman Kavala, his co-defendants, and their families," he added, "but to everyone who believes in justice and human rights activism in Turkey and beyond."
Sixty-four-year-old Kavala, who had already spent four years in prison without a conviction, was sentenced along with seven other defendants for allegedly trying to overthrow the government during an uprising that broke out in 2013.
He was first arrested in 2017 on charges related to the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul. The trial was closely watched by rights groups, who have accused the Turkish government of using the judicial system to crack down on dissenting voices.
Though Kavala was acquitted in 2020, that verdict was overturned and new charges were brought against him for his alleged involvement in the July 2016 attempted coup, which resulted in the death of at least 250 people and a subsequent crackdown that has seen over 110,000 people, including civil servants, teachers, activists, and journalists detained.
The court's decision, said Muiznieks, "defies all logic."
"The prosecuting authorities have repeatedly failed to provide any evidence that substantiates the baseless charges of attempting to overthrow the government. This unjust verdict shows that the Gezi trial was only an attempt to silence independent voices," he added.
Liesl Gerntholtz, director of the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Center, said Monday marked "a dark moment for Turkey" and called Kavala's life sentence "a devastating and unjust blow, not only to him and his family, but to freedom of expression and human rights in Turkey."
"Kavala's case," she added, "is a blatant attempt to criminalize free expression and use the courts to retaliate against those who dare to criticize the government. This egregious sentence is a death knell for Turkey's democracy."
\u201cThe worst possible outcome to this show trial as Osman Kavala is convicted of attempting to overthrow the govt & sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment; the 7 others convicted of aiding him and sentenced to 18 yrs and immediately arrested. Horrifying, cruel and evil\u201d— Emma Sinclair-Webb (@Emma Sinclair-Webb) 1650903624
Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth similarly denounced the sentencing as "an abomination" and said that Kavala "did nothing other than have an independent voice, but [Turkish] President Erdogan seems to need to blame someone for the widespread opposition to his autocratic rule."
Adding to the outrage is Ankara's disregard for the European Court of Human Rights' call for Kavala's release--a flouting that in February prompted the Council of Europe to take nearly unprecedented disciplinary action against Turkey.
The E.U.'s top diplomat, Josep Borrell Fontelles, put the harsh sentences in the context of the European court's demands and said, "Respecting fundamental rights and freedoms is today more important than ever."
European nations including France also bemoaned the outcome. The French foreign ministry called for Kavala's "immediate release" and for all charges against him to be dropped. The ministry added that Kavala's four years in detention already ran afoul of "Turkey's international obligations."
The U.S. State Department also weighed in, with spokesperson Ned Price calling Kavala's "unjust conviction" one that is "inconsistent with respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law."
"We again call on Turkey to release Osman Kavala, in keeping with European Court of Human Rights rulings, as well as to free all others arbitrarily incarcerated," said Price.
Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.