Turkey clashes with the top European human rights court
Turkey is clashing with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) due to its decision to detain and sentence philanthropist Osman Kavala to life in jail without parole, raising the prospect of its suspension from the Council of Europe (CoE), said Global Voices columnist Arzu Geybullayeva.
It is now up to the CoE’s Committee of Ministers to take any further action after the ECHR said on Monday that Turkey had failed in its human rights obligations by not complying with a 2019 ruling to release Kavala, Geybullayeva said on Wednesday.
It does not concern Turkey what the ECHR and the Council of Europe say and do, and both institutions must respect the decisions of Turkey’s courts, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in February.
A full reproduction of the article follows below:
On April 25, renowned Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala was sentenced to life in prison. On July 11, almost three months after the ruling, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said Turkey failed to fulfil its obligation under Article 46/1 of the International Convention on Human Rights by not complying with the court’s 2019 ruling to release Kavala.
Now, it is up to the Committee of Ministers, which oversees the implementation of the ECHR rulings, what measures to take against Turkey after the country failed to comply with the court’s ruling. This could lead to Turkey’s suspension from the Council of Europe. In anticipation, the Foreign Ministry of Turkey said they expected the Committee of Ministers “to act without bias and with common sense” in a statement.
Kavala, a successful Turkish businessman who has supported numerous civil society initiatives in Turkey over the years, including the Open Society Foundation Turkey, was taken into custody on Oct.18, 2017. Two weeks later he was arrested on charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and “attempting to overthrow the government” over his alleged financing of the Gezi Protests in 2013. He has been in a maximum-security prison since November 2017.
In February 2020, Kavala was acquitted however, hours later, he was accused of involvement in the 2016 coup attempt. Although he was cleared one month after this accusation, Kavala was kept in remand detention on the charge of “political or military espionage.” Then in January 2021, his acquittal in the Gezi Park trial was reversed, and during the trial held in February 2021, the court ruled to combine charges levelled against Kavala in the Gezi Park trial with the 2016 coup, ruling to continue his detention. Kavala’s lawyers have said the indictment is a presumptive fiction lacking any evidence. International human rights organisations and civil society groups in Turkey have said Kavala’s arrest is politically motivated.
Last year, on the fourth year anniversary of Kavala’s arrest, Turkey found itself in the midst of a diplomatic storm when the embassies of 10 countries signed a statement on the ongoing detention of the philanthropist. In response to the signed statement, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he would expel 10 diplomats, including seven of Turkey’s NATO allies and major trading partners. The president described the statement as “impudence,” declaring the diplomats “persona non grata.” But when all 10 signatories reiterated their commitment to Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, recognising Turkey’s sovereignty and independence, the crisis was averted.
On July 12, Osman Kavala issued a statement in which he said the July 11 ruling “clearly revealed that the unlawful practice and political influences on the judiciary still continue and the laws are used in an arbitrary fashion with political motives.”
Julia Hall, Deputy Director for Research at Amnesty International’s Europe office said the recent ruling shamed Turkey’s authorities in a statement issued by the organisation on July 11. “Today’s ruling lays bare yet again the failure of the government to abide by a legally binding obligation. Turkey’s continuing inaction compounds the egregious suffering of Osman Kavala and his family,” said Hall, adding, Kavala’s case is emblematic of the clampdown on civil society and the rollback in human rights protections that affects everyone in Turkey. If Turkey persists in its stubborn refusal to release Osman Kavala, it will further debase itself as one of the Council of Europe’s founding members. The Council of Europe, its member states and the European Union must urge Turkey to finally free Osman Kavala and the many others detained in similar circumstances.
According to the reporting by Deutsche Welle (DW), “it is rare for the [ECHR] court to explicitly reprimand a state for failing to abide by a decision. Since it was ministers from the Council of Europe (CoE) who referred the case back to the court in February, Monday’s decision is seen as moving the CoE a step closer to suspending Turkey as a member.”
All eyes are now on the ECHR which now has to send “its decision on initiating a violation procedure against Turkey to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. In its first meeting, the committee will discuss how to proceed against the violation. The process, which will continue with the sanctions afterwards, may extend until Turkey’s expulsion from membership,” reported Gazete Duvar.
In an interview with Gazete Duvar, former ECHR Judge Rıza Türmen said, “Expulsion of Turkey from the Council of Europe will have a very serious political consequence. First of all, its relations with the European Union will be severed. Turkey’s place among the community of democratic states will be shaken. Turkey will become an authoritarian Middle Eastern state like Syria and Iraq. Not to mention the grave economic consequences.”
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice also issued a statement questioning the impartiality of the European court in case of Turkey’s withdrawal. “Bringing the Kavala case forward will not only affect the credibility and reputation of the ECHR, but also increase the public debate on the objectivity and impartiality of the ECHR against Turkey,” said the Ministry in a statement issued on July 11.
Previously similar infringement procedures were launched against Azerbaijan, also a member of the Council of Europe, when the state failed to release jailed political activist Ilgar Mammadov despite the ECHR ruling. At the time of Mammadov’s imprisonment in 2014, the ECHR “found that the arrest and detention of Mr. Mammadov took place in the absence of any reasonable suspicion that he had committed an offense, and that the actual purpose of the criminal proceedings was to punish him for criticising the government.” As a result, in December 2017, the ECHR launched infringement proceedings against Azerbaijan. In September 2020, the ECHR closed the infringement proceedings after the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan dropped all the charges against Mammadov.
(The original version of the article can be found here.)