Turkey keeps philanthropist Kavala in jail, despite European court ruling

A Turkish court declined to release Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala from jail in a fourth hearing of what is known as the Gezi trial on Tuesday, side-stepping a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling earlier this month. 

Kavala is accused by prosecutors of masterminding the Gezi Park protests of 2013, the biggest anti-government demonstrations since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist-leaning party came to power in 2002. He has been in prison since November 2017.

The Turkish court, based at Silivri prison near Istanbul, where Kavala is being held, refused to implement the ECHR’s decision calling for his immediate release, even though police officers told the court that the philanthropist had not been seen during the protests. 

Turkey is a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights and began membership talks with the European Union in 2005 after implementing democratic reforms. But its candidacy has been stalled since 2016 due to backtracking on the EU’s standards for human rights and democracy. 

“Turkish government is responsible for this travesty of justice,” the European Parliament's (EP) former Turkey rapporteur Kati Piri said on Twitter following the Turkish court’s ruling.

Kavala’s lawyers presented the ECHR ruling to the court, which said Turkey had infringed on his rights to liberty and security and to a speedy decision on the lawfulness of his detention. The ECHR also said that limitations on a state’s use of measures restricting a person’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights had been breached.

The Turkish court cited a May 2019 decision by the Constitutional Court that rejected Kavala’s release despite a case rapporteur’s assessment that his rights had been violated. Instead, it decided to ask the Ministry of Justice its opinion on the ECHR’s decision. The ministry is controlled by Erdoğan’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The next hearing of the Gezi trial will be held on Jan. 28. Kavala, who, along with 15 leading civil society figures, is facing charges of attempting to overthrow the government, is the only suspect who remains in jail.

While the ECHR’s rulings are legally binding on Turkey, the Turkish authorities have in the past refused to implement them. A court declined to free Selahattin Demirtaş, a Kurdish politician and former co-chair of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), in November despite an ECHR ruling calling for his immediate release.