Erdoğan keeping Kavala behind bars based on conspiracy theories - Henri J. Barkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has a personal dislike for philanthropist Osman Kavala, said Henri J. Barkey, an adjunct senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Kavala’s imprisonment since 2017 is based on conspiracy theories, Barkey told journalist Nervana Mahmoud in a podcast for Ahval on Tuesday.

Kavala, a prominent businessman and a patron of the arts and civil society in Turkey, has been behind bars for more than 1,300 days. He is facing life in prison on charges of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order. In a separate case accusing him of espionage, Kavala could be convicted to another 20 years in prison.

Kavala was first arrested for allegedly helping to organise massive anti-government protests in 2013, which began in response to government plans to develop Gezi Park, one of the last remaining green spaces in Istanbul.

Following a court acquittal last year, Kavala was arrested again on coup plotting charges before he could be released. Prosecutors added the charges of espionage later.

Erdoğan is clearly intent on keeping Kavala in prison, Barkey said.

“There is no other way to explain why this has happened to Osman,’’ he said.

Barkey said Kavala remained behind bars based on Erdoğan conspiracy theories, which are very popular among Turks, including Islamist circles that back the president.

Barkey also faces possible prosecution in Turkey, accused of helping to organise a failed military coup against the government on July 15, 2016. He denies the charges.

Turkey is “looking to blame the United States for it”, he said.

The case against Barkey is based on what he says was a chance encounter with Kavala. The scholar was attending a two-day workshop on Istanbul’s Prince’s Islands concerning the international relations of Iran a few days before the coup attempt. Ankara says Barkey was working for the CIA to bring down the Turkish government.

Barkey said Turkish prosecutors had made a connection between him and Kavala, but were unable to prove anything that could lead to serious accusations.

“All they tell is that my phone and his phone were in the same vicinity, which was quite normal,” he said.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.
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