Top Europe court calls for immediate release of Turkish philanthropist

Osman Kavala
Osman Kavala

STRASBOURG, France — Europe's top rights court on Tuesday urged Turkey to release businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, ruling his rights had been violated by more than two years in detention and rubbishing the charges against him.

Kavala, who funded civil society projects across the country and notably pushed for reconciliation between Turkey and its neighbor Armenia, was detained in 2017 on charges of seeking to overthrow the government.

His supporters have denounced the charges as politically motivated and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has personally attacked Kavala, calling him the agent in Turkey of US financier George Soros.

The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that Turkey was unable to demonstrate that Kavala's "initial and continued pre-trial detention had been justified by reasonable suspicions based on an objective assessment of the acts attributed to him."

Turkey must now "take every measure to put an end to the applicant's detention and to secure his immediate release," the court concluded.

Kavala, who remains in detention and went on trial in June, had been charged with attempting to overthrow the government and the constitution through involvement in 2013 anti-Erdogan protests and the 2016 failed coup.

He denies the accusations.

In a damning verdict, the ECHR said that his detention was "based not only on acts that could not be reasonably considered as behavior criminalized under domestic law" but also on acts whose exercise was guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.

"In the absence of facts, information or evidence showing that Mr Kavala had been involved in criminal activity, he could not reasonably be suspected of having attempted to overthrow the government by force or violence," it said.

The court also found that the violations in the case "pursued an ulterior purpose... namely that of reducing Mr. Kavala, and with him all human-rights defenders, to silence."

In a joint statement, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International urged Turkey to implement the ruling and "release Osman Kavala immediately."

"The ruling today should lead to an end to Turkey's indefensible persecution of Osman Kavala," said Aisling Reidy, senior legal adviser at Human Rights Watch.

Their statement slammed the indictment against Kavala, whose trial is due to resume on Dec. 24, as "largely incoherent, packed with wild conspiracy theories."

Erdogan in 2018 had described Kavala as the "representative in Turkey" of Soros and accused Kavala of "using his means to support those trying to tear up this country".

A respected figure in intellectual circles, Kavala is chairman of the Anatolian Culture Foundation, which seeks to bridge ethnic and regional divides through art and culture.

The rulings of the ECHR, which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights, of which Turkey is a signatory, are binding on all member states of the Council of Europe.

However, a string of ECHR rulings unfavorable to Ankara over its crackdown in the wake of the 2016 failed coup bid have increased tensions between Turkey and the Council of Europe.

Andrew Gardner, Turkey strategy manager at Amnesty, said the Kavala's release needed "to be the first of many steps beginning to reverse the damage caused by the massive crackdown on civil society over the last several years and to restore respect for human rights in Turkey today". — AFP