Turkey defies European deadline to release Osman Kavala from prison | Human Rights News

The Council of Europe has reportedly called for the jailed businessman and philanthropist to be released by February 2.

A Turkish court has extended the detention of civil society leader Osman Kavala, ignoring a deadline set by Europe’s top human rights body to release him, in a case that has damaged Ankara’s ties with the West.

The 64-year-old businessman and philanthropist has been held without conviction since October 2017 for allegedly funding a wave of anti-government protests in 2013 and playing a role in a coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016. He denies any wrongdoing.

The court decided by a majority of votes on Monday to keep Kavala in prison for the duration of his trial.

He set the next hearing for February 21 and said his detention would be reviewed on February 13. Kavala was arrested on October 18, 2017.

Ayse Bugra, wife of Kavala, hugs a friend as she leaves court after a hearing into her role in the 2013 nationwide protests in Istanbul, Turkey [File: Umit Bektas/Reuters]

Human rights groups said the case was politically motivated and part of a crackdown on dissent under President Erdogan. The government rejects this and claims that the Turkish courts are independent.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) requested the release of Kavala at the end of 2019 for lack of reasonable suspicion that he had committed an offense, judging that his detention had served to silence him.

The Council of Europe (CoE) told Turkey in December it was preparing “infringement proceedings” for its failure to release Kavala, a move that could lead to Ankara’s suspension from the body.

Human Rights Watch’s Emma Sinclair-Webb said on Twitter that the Council of Europe had given Turkey one last chance to free Kavala ahead of its February 2 session, when it will refer the case to the ECHR, opening the procedure.

Milena Buyum, Turkey campaigner for Amnesty International, called on the Council of Europe to act.

“Returning this stubborn refusal to apply the binding judgment (ECHR) to the court in an infringement procedure,” she said on Twitter, referring to the first stage of the process.

Erdogan threatened in October to expel ambassadors from 10 countries, including the United States, Germany and France, after he reiterated the ECHR’s decision calling for Kavala’s release.

At that time, the dispute added to pressure on the struggling Turkish lira amid concerns about the effect on Turkey’s relations with the West. It has since dipped to record lows in late 2021, before stabilizing this month.

In 2020, Kavala was acquitted of charges relating to the 2013 nationwide protests focused on Istanbul’s Gezi Park. The ruling was overturned last year and combined with charges in another case linked to a 2016 coup attempt.

Kavala is on trial along with 51 others in a combination of three separate cases relating to the 2013 protests and the 2016 coup attempt.

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