Turkish politicians form chorus of condemnation against Kavala conviction

Leading Turkish politicians on Tuesday spoke out against the life sentence handed down to civil rights activist and philanthropist Osman Kavala and the seven others sentenced to 18 years each in the years-long Gezi Park trial.

A Turkish court on Monday found Kavala guilty of trying to overthrow the government. The 64-year-old rights activist was sentenced to life without possibility of parole, while seven other defendants were arrested after being handed down jail sentences in the case that has come to be seen as a crackdown on critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. 

The leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu accused the judges of caving to political pressure, as he called the trial “fictitious.”

“In this fictitious trial, Osman Kavala was sentenced to life in prison in a case in which he was previously acquitted,” T24 news site cited him as telling members of his party during a CHP group meeting on Tuesday. “We will fight against those who place the judiciary under the orders of politics."

Kavala was initially acquitted in February 2020 of charges that connected him with the 2013 Gezi Park protests. But the businessman was rearrested hours later on new charges linking him to a 2016 failed coup attempt. The acquittal was later overturned, with the case being merged with that relating to the coup attempt, which the Ankara blames on the Gülen movement, the network of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen.

The Pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair Pervin Buldan on Tuesday expressed solidarity with Gezi Park defendants, saying that the country’s “democratic conscience” was with them during a HDP group meeting, Bianet news site reported.

HDP former co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, who is behind bars on terror charges, took to Twitter to say the charges were proof of Ankara’s ongoing intimidation of the Gezi Park protests. 

“They have not yet learned, let them be scared of us,” Demirtaş said.

Gezi began as small protests against an urban development plan in Istanbul’s Gezi Park in 2013. The demonstrations quickly transformed into huge anti-government protests. A fierce response by the authorities was followed by years-long attacks on anyone accused of aiding or organising the protest movement.

Opposition Future Party chair and former prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu slammed Turkey’s judicial system as he highlighted the international condemnation of the verdict. 

“If you weaken justice with long detention periods and completely disregard the rule of law with contradictory decisions, then there would be no respect left for the rulings you hand down,” the Future Party leader wrote in a message on Twitter.

The United States and Germany slammed a Turkish court's decision on Monday to jail Kavala for life. Washington called on Turkey to release Kavala, in keeping with European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rulings and “free all others arbitrarily incarcerated” in a written statement by U.S. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price on Monday.

Former Turkish President Abdullah Gül said Monday’s ruling bore “an inconceivable burden’’ for the country, T24 news site reported.

“During this period, in which Turkey’s human rights and judiciary practice are already under questioning, only those who wish to inflict harm on to Turkey could have hurt the country this much,” the former president and founding member of the ruling Justice and Development Party said.

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