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  • Oct 15, 2021

Turkey Extends Osman Kavala’s Detention

Portrait of OSMAN KAVALA. Photo by Kerem Uzel. Courtesy Free Osman Kavala Campaign.

A Turkish court further extended the detention of philanthropist and cultural patron Osman Kavala on October 8, citing the severity of the charges against him. He is now facing multiple charges merged from two previous cases, including “attempting to overthrow the government” in connection with the 2013 Gezi Park anti-government protests and “attempting to change the constitutional order by using force and violence” for his alleged involvement with the failed July 15, 2016, military coup d’état, plus a new charge of espionage. He will face life imprisonment if found guilty. Kavala’s next hearing is scheduled for November 26.

Kavala was originally detained in October 2017, and has spent more than 1,440 days in prison despite the lack of substantive evidence. On February 18, 2020, the Istanbul 30th Heavy Penal Court in Silivri had acquitted Kavala and eight other defendants, but Kavala was immediately re-arrested for his alleged support of the 2016 coup, after Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan publicly criticized the acquittal. In March 2020, prosecutors filed another charge of “securing for purposes of political or military espionage information that should be kept confidential for reasons relating to the security and interests of the state.” On January 22 this year, the acquitted case was overturned, which put Kavala and the other defendants back on trial again. In May, another court combined their trial—the so-called “Gezi Case”—and another involving members of the Beşiktas football club’s Çarşı fan club, who were acquitted of similar charges in December 2015, into a single indictment, despite the lack of connection between them and any fresh evidence.

In his defense statement shared with the court and posted on the Free Osman Kavala website, Kavala denies all allegations against him: “What is striking about the charges brought against me is not merely the fact that they are not based on any evidence. They are allegations of a fantastic nature based on conspiracy theories overstepping the bounds of reason.”

The 64-year-old’s prolonged detainment and Turkey’s refusal to acknowledge the ruling of European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) could cost Turkey its membership or voting rights in the Council of Europe, with the Committee of Ministers holding a vote at the end of November. Representatives of the European Union, and diplomats from Europe and the United States, observed the trial proceedings on October 8, following multiple calls for Kavala’s release. In a statement dated October 9, Amnesty International’s Europe director Nils Muiznieks described the charges as “absurd.”

Before his detainment on October 18, 2017, Kavala has been the chief executive of his family’s conglomerate since 1982, but is best known as a supporter of civil initiatives. He was also the founder of the nonprofit cultural foundation Anadolu Kültür (Anatolian Culture), which Turkey's Ministry of Commerce has requested to disband on February 16. The foundation had supported the LGBTQ community and sponsored cross-cultural and inter-faith reconciliation between Turkey’s minority groups. 

Nicole Nepomuceno is ArtAsiaPacific’s assistant editor.