Protests at Gezi Park on 3rd June 2013.Photograph by VikiPicture, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license

The Turkish authorities must acquit publisher, philanthropist and civil society leader Osman Kavala and his 15 co-defendants of all charges, PEN International said today, as a verdict is expected when their trial resumes tomorrow in Istanbul. The organisation further calls on the authorities to abide by the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling and immediately release Kavala from detention.

Osman Kavala stands accused alongside 15 other civil society figures and arts practitioners on trumped-up charges of ‘attempting to overthrow the government’ for their alleged role in the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul in 2013. If convicted, Kavala and two of his co-accused face aggravated life sentences; six others face 15-20 years in prison.

Kavala remains the only one behind bars, despite several applications to end his lengthy detention, and a December 2019 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights ordering his immediate release. The court found that Kavala’s detention ‘pursued an ulterior purpose…namely that of reducing [him] to silence’.

The ruling of the European Court of Human Rights is explicit and could not be clearer. The Turkish authorities have kept Osman Kavala behind bars for more than two years with the sole intent and purpose of silencing him. As a member state of the Council of Europe, Turkey must abide by and respect its international obligations and it must fully implement judgments of the Court. Ahead of tomorrow’s hearing, PEN International once again calls on the Turkish authorities to drop all charges against Kavala and his co-defendants immediately, and to release him unconditionally. That he has been jailed is a travesty; he should not have to spend another minute behind bars,’ said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

Hege Newth, Secretary General of Norwegian PEN (@norsk_pen) and Caroline Stockford, Turkey Adviser with Norwegian PEN (@CarolineStockf1) will observe the hearing.

Background information

Osman Kavala, 62, has dedicated his life to promoting open dialogue and peace, human rights and democratic values in Turkey. He helped establish a number of civil society organisations, including Anadolu Kültür (Anatolian Culture), a cultural association that aims to foster a celebration of diversity through cultural and artistic exchange. He also helped found İletişim Publishing in 1983, which has since become one of Turkey’s largest publishing houses.

Kavala was first detained on 18 October 2017 at Istanbul’s Atatürk airport upon returning from the city of Gaziantep, south eastern Turkey. On 1 November 2017, a Court in Istanbul ruled that he be remanded in Silivri Prison, where he has been detained ever since. He was formally charged 16 months after his arrest. A 657-page long indictment accuses him and 15 co-defendants of being responsible for crimes allegedly committed by protestors across Turkey during the Gezi Park protests and reframes the overwhelmingly peaceful protests as a conspiracy to overthrow the government. The first hearing in the case took place on 24 June 2019 in Istanbul; the Court kept ruling for Kavala’s continued detention in subsequent hearings.

The defendants in the case, in alphabetical order of surnames, are: Yiğit Aksakoğlu (civil society professional who was held in pre-trial detention for 21 days), Memet Ali Alabora (director, actor), Hakan Altınay (chair of Open Society Foundation), Meltem Arıkan (novelist, playwright), Can Atalay (lawyer and human rights defender), Can Dündar (journalist, author), İnanç Ekmekci (civil society professional); Yiğit Ekmekçi (Chair of Anadolu Kültür), Hikmet Germiyanoğlu (NGO consultant), Tayfun Kahraman (urban planner), Osman KavalaÇiğdem Mater (film producer), Ayşe Pınar Alabora (actress), Mine Özerden (civil society and arts project coordinator), Mücella Yapıcı (architect and engineer) and Gökçe Yılmaz (Open Society Foundation’s Turkey representative).

On 6 February 2020, prosecutors requested aggravated life sentences against Osman Kavala, Mücella Yapıcı and Yiğit Aksakoğlu – the most severe sentence under Turkish law. It consists of 30 years’ imprisonment, after which prisoners are eligible for parole on condition of good behaviour. Those convicted of aggravated life sentences also face harsher detention conditions, including solitary confinement for up to 23 hours per day.

Çiğdem Mater, Hakan Altınay, Mine Özerden, Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman and Yiğit Ekmekçi are facing between 15 and 20 years in prison.

Prosecutors requested that the case against Ayşe Pınar Alabora, Can Dündar, Gökçe Yılmaz, Meltem Arıkan, Hikmet Germiyanoğlu, Memet Ali Alabora and İnanç Ekmekçi – who are currently abroad – continue separately.

For more information about PEN International’s work on the Gezi Park case, please click here.

For further details contact Aurélia Dondo at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail: Aurelia.dondo@pen-international.org