The United States and Amnesty reacted sharply, greatly embarrassed and disappointed
A Turkish court has sentenced businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala to life in prison without parole, finding him guilty of attempting to overthrow the government by funding anti-government protests in 2013, Reuters reported.
Kavala, 64, has been in prison for four and a half years without a sentence and denies charges against him and 15 other defendants over the Gezi protests. The demonstrations began with a small protest in defense of a park in Istanbul, but escalated into massive anti-government protests across the country, killing eight protesters.
Other defendants were sentenced to up to 18 years in prison for aiding and abetting an attempt to overthrow the government.
The court said it had decided to acquit Kavala on espionage charges for lack of evidence.
In December 2019, the European Court of Human Rights demanded Kavala’s immediate release, ruling that his arrest was politically motivated and in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Turkey has ignored the ECtHR ruling, although the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, which monitors the implementation of Strasbourg court rulings, has repeatedly called on it to comply.
Kavala, who has been repeatedly accused by Erdogan of being an agent of US billionaire George Soros, is a prominent figure in Turkish civil society. He is the founder of the non-governmental organization Anadolu Culture, which supports cultural and social projects, and is a founding member of the Soros Open Society Foundation in Turkey. The businessman has also been involved in promoting Turkish art and cultural heritage abroad and is known for supporting cultural projects on topics such as minority rights and the Kurdish issue.
The human rights organization Amnesty International described the sentence against Kavala as a devastating blow to justice and human rights.
The organisation’s director for Europe, Nils Muznieks, said the verdict was illogical. He said authorities had not provided evidence to support the baseless allegations.
The United States, meanwhile, said it was “very embarrassed and disappointed” by the verdict against the Turkish philanthropist.
“His unjust sentence is inconsistent with respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. We again call on Turkey to release Osman Kavala,” the State Department said in a written statement. “We are deeply concerned about the ongoing harassment of civil society, the media, political and business leaders in Turkey.”
Photo: Osman Kavala, Turkish businessman, philanthropist and human rights activist poses for a photo in Istanbul, April 29, 2015 (AP)