Final hearing of jailed Turkish philanthropist Kavala postponed to Monday

A Turkish court on Friday postponed the final hearing of philanthropist and human rights defender Osman Kavala to Monday in a case threatening Turkey's membership of the Council of Europe.

Held in custody for more than four years, Kavala has been accused of financing the Gezi Park protests against the government in 2013, espionage and attempting to overthrow the government by helping to orchestrate a failed military coup in July 2016. The 64-year-old businessman denies all of the charges, which carry a life sentence without parole.

The Istanbul court’s decision on Friday, when it was expected to reach a verdict, was to give time for defense lawyers to finish their statements, Cumhuriyet newspaper reported.

Friday’s hearing convened without the presence of Kavala -- he joined via video link from jail -- and follows a court ruling on March 22nd that he should remain behind bars. The Istanbul court had been widely expected to reach a verdict last month, but defence lawyers requested more time to respond to the prosecutor’s final opinion on the case.

Kavala, speaking to the court via video link, dismissed the indictment against him as being a violation of the law.

 “It is evident that those who issued the indictment did not feel constrained by laws, considering that they will receive political support as they intended to prolong my detention,” Kavala said.

Human rights groups have denounced the legal proceedings against Kavala, who has been jailed despite a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling for his release, and seven other defendants as unjust and politically motivated, and a reflection of the government's increasing authoritarianism. 

In February, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers voted to begin infringement proceedings against Turkey over its failure to release Kavala.

"Accusations based on imaginary scenarios, ungrounded claims like terror, coup d'etat, intervention by foreign powers and forced judicial interventions cannot change the historical reality of the Gezi resistance," Mücella Yapıcı, a co-defendant, told the court, according to Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA).

Several human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have also called for Kavala to be released immediately and for all charges against him to be dropped, citing the lack of evidence to support the accusations.

"This politically motivated charade has already seen Osman Kavala arbitrarily imprisoned for more than four-and-a-half years for no other reason than his civil society activism and dispels any lingering doubts about the hollowness of the Turkish justice system," Amnesty International said in a statement ahead of the hearing.

“Since November 2017, the sole concern of the authorities has been to deprive Osman Kavala of his freedom with utter disregard for fair trial standards."

Only one journalist was allowed into the courtroom on Friday to follow the case after defence lawyers pleaded with the judge to permit media coverage, the MLSA said.

International human rights organisation Article 19 called for Kavala’s unconditional release, along with the other defendants, and for the group to be acquitted of all charges against them. 

Turkey must also take immediate steps to restore the rule of law, implement European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) judgments and cease the severe oppression of civil society, Article 19 said.

In 2020, Kavala was acquitted of charges related to the nationwide Gezi protests of 2013, but remanded in custody hours later on charges of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order in connection to the failed putsch of 2016. The philanthropist was later released on that charge but was then detained again, this time accused of espionage.

Human rights groups and a number of Western countries see the Kavala trial as a symbol of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s intolerance of dissent, which has increased since the introduction of a presidential system of government in 2018.

"That he (Kavala) and co-defendants continue to be judicially harassed on baseless charges is yet another example of the country’s ongoing human rights crisis," PEN International said in a statement. "We urge once again the Turkish authorities to drop all charges against the defendants, and to release Kavala immediately and unconditionally."

(This story re-leads with postponement update, edits for media coverage limited in the 10th paragraph.)

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