Turkey’s Gezi Park Trial Nears Its End

The long-running trial of Turkish activist and philanthropist Osman Kavala nears its end as he and seven other defendants delivered their final defense statements on Friday.

In the trial, known as the Gezi Park trial, Kavala and 15 other defendants face many accusations, including attempting to overthrow the government and organizing the 2013 Gezi Park protests. Kavala denies the charges.

The Gezi Park protests began as an environmental demonstration in an Istanbul park and then turned into nationwide anti-government unrest against then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Eight protesters were killed during the protests.

Kavala, 64, has been in jail for four and a half years without a conviction, and he spent 19 months of this time in pre-trial detention. If convicted, Kavala faces a life sentence.

Speaking to the court Friday by video link from prison, Kavala said, “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.”

ECHR ruling

In December 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) released a ruling in favor of an immediate release of Kavala, saying there is a lack of reasonable suspicion that he committed a crime. As a member state of the Council of Europe, Turkey is legally bound by ECHR rulings, but it has not complied in the Kavala case.

In February, the Council of Europe (CoE) Committee of Ministers began proceedings against Turkey over its failure to respect the ECHR ruling. The proceedings mean that Ankara faces a suspension of its voting rights in the CoE.

Political case

Many human rights activists assert the case is politically motivated.

“This case has been a political case from its very beginning, and it was shaped directly by the president,” Mehmet Durakoglu, head of the Istanbul Bar Association, told VOA.

As a lawyer who has followed all of the hearings in the Gezi Park trial, Durakoglu said the prosecution has not presented a case that would justify a conviction.

“There is not even the slightest bit of evidence. Architects have been prosecuted for doing architecture, city planners for doing city planning and lawyers for practicing law. Under normal circumstances, no sentence should be delivered in this case,” Durakoglu noted.

The court had been expected to reach a verdict on Friday, but it postponed the hearing until Monday to allow defense lawyers to finish their statements.

Prosecutor Edip Sahiner has asked for Kavala and architect Mucella Yapici to be convicted of attempting to overthrow the government through violence, which would carry a sentence of up to life in prison without parole.

The courtroom was packed with some 200 people, including opposition members, rights groups, and Western diplomats.

Soros allegations

The Gezi Park trial indictment alleges that Hungarian-born, U.S.-based financier George Soros and his Open Society Foundation were behind the protests, and that they acted through Kavala, a former member of Open Society’s Turkey branch board.

Both Kavala and the Open Society Foundation deny these accusations. The foundation ceased its operations in Turkey in 2018, saying that it was no longer possible to work in the country.

“The fact that no member of the Open Society Foundation board other than me was summoned to testify and that George Soros is not among the accused shows that people who wrote this indictment do not believe this scenario that Soros organized and financed the Gezi protests through me,” Kavala said in his final defense statement.

Erdogan has publicly called Kavala “Soros scum” and “domestic Soros.”

Kavala’s prolonged detention stirred a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and the embassies of 10 Western countries, including the United States, Canada and Germany, last October.

In response to the embassies calling for Kavala’s release in a letter, Erdogan threatened them to be “persona non grata.” The embassies responded with one-sentence public statements reiterating their “compliance with Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.” The article regulates diplomatic norms against interference in the internal affairs of host states.

After the court hearing, Evren Isler, one of Kavala’s lawyers, told reporters the judicial panel’s actions were detached from the facts.

“Today’s hearing has shown us once again how the judicial panel has lost touch with the facts. No matter what we said, the panel gave the impression that they did not care,” Isler said.

“One of the many violations, in this case, is the violation of the right to a fair trial. The judicial panel is obliged to give the impression that they protect the right to a fair trial,” Isler underscored.

This story was originated in VOA’s Turkish service. Some information in this report came from Reuters.