Top European body repeats call for Osman Kavala’s immediate release

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe repeated a call on Turkey for Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala’s immediate release from prison in its Strasbourg meeting between Sept. 20 and 22.

The deputies “deeply regretted that, despite the clear and unequivocal conclusions of the Grand Chamber in its Kavala (Article 46 § 4) judgment, the applicant has still not been released”, they said.

The committee said it “welcomed” the high-level meetings between Chair of the Committee of Ministers, currently Simon Coveney, and his Turkish counterpart foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu at last week’s U.N. General Assembly meetings.

 The Committee chair is “encouraged” to discuss with the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on further steps in case Kavala, behind bars since 2017, remains in prison, the committee said.

Turkish authorities are to provide information on domestic procedures by Oct. 13, as the committee urged Turkey to “ensure full independence and impartiality” for its judiciary.

The PACE is scheduled to discuss the case on Oct. 12 in Strasbourg as part of the Turkey report to be voted on.

The committee refraining from advancing the infringement proceedings against Turkey could be a sign of CoE’s preference for dialogue with Ankara. It  will be monitoring Kavala’s appeal process, as the philanthropist seeks to overturn his conviction related to Turkey’s massive anti-government protests of 2013.

Kavala is currently serving a life sentence, issued in April, based on charges he had previously been acquitted from. He was accused of funding the Gezi Park protests, where a small sit-in to save its namesake urban green space snowballed into several million people taking to the streets throughout Turkey over the summer of 2013 after peaceful protests were met with government crackdown and police brutality.

 The European Court of Human Right (ECHR) issued a ruling in December 2019 calling for Kavala’s immediate release, saying the philanthropist’s arrest and pre-trial detention since 2017 “took place in the absence of evidence to support a reasonable suspicion he had committed an offence and pursued an ulterior purpose, namely to silence him and dissuade other human rights defenders”.

In the same meeting the committee also urged for the release of jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş, who was arrested in 2016 when he was still the co-chair of Turkey’s second largest opposition bloc, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP).

Turkey still risks expulsion from the CoE, of which it is a founding member, if the ECHR ruling is not implemented. However, Turkish authorities maintain the ruling has already been complied with, and that Kavala is behind bars over different charges.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry has not commented on the matter, while mentioning the committee meeting over another case. The ministry said the committee closing the examination of the ECHR’s Loizidou judgment was “a positive development, albeit a very late one”.

“On the other hand, non-closure of the relevant cluster of “Cyprus vs. Turkey” judgment, during the same meeting, constitutes a great inconsistency. This fact once again shows that certain circles may aim to erode the Convention system for the sake of their political interests,”, the ministry said.

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