European court condemns Turkey for keeping businessman jailed on baseless charges

The European Court of Human Rights sees no 'plausible reason' why Osman Kavala is in jail

This undated file handout photograph taken and released on October 15, 2021 by the Anadolu Culture Center shows Parisian-born Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala speaking during an event in Istanbul. AFP Photo
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Turkey has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for detaining an activist for four years without trial, saying there are no grounds to believe he has committed any crime.

Businessman and cultural activist Osman Kavala, 64, stands accused of funding protests that swept the country in 2013. He was also accused of spying for a foreign government, although the latter charge was eventually dropped.

Accusations then moved to his alleged involvement in a 2016 coup attempt to unseat President Reccip Tayyip Erdogan. The coup was widely blamed on the Gulen movement, a religious organisation in Turkey led by exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen. Scores of thousands of people were detained or removed from government jobs in its aftermath.

Detained in 2017, Mr Kavala was known for philanthropic donations to a cultural organisation, Anadolu Kultur, which says it was established “to build bridges between different ethnic, religious and regional groups by sharing culture and art.”

Turkey failed to respect the rule of law by keeping Mr Kavala in pre-trial detention without justification over his involvement in anti-government protests, the ECHR ruled. The Council of Europe, an international human rights organisation with 46 member states - which also runs the ECHR, condemned Mr Kavala’s continued detention on Monday and called for his “immediate release.”

Mr Kavala was arrested and kept in prison between October 2017 and February 2022 ahead of his trial, in disregard of a 2019 ruling from the court that called for his release.

“There was no plausible reason to suspect that the applicant had committed ‘any criminal offence,’” the court ruled on Monday, adding that the measures were essentially based “on facts that cannot be reasonably considered as behaviour criminalised under domestic law.”

Mr Kavala was subsequently convicted and sentenced to life in prison in April for conspiring to overthrow Mr Erdogan in the failed 2016 coup.

The case was referred to the ECHR in February. "What the ECHR or the Council of Europe say doesn't concern us," Mr Erdogan said at the time. "We expect them to respect our courts."

The panel of three judges also jailed seven other defendants for 18 years each on the charge of aiding the attempt to overthrow then-prime minister Erdogan's government during large-scale protests in 2013.

Paris-born philanthropist Mr Kavala told the court by video link from a high-security prison near Istanbul that he viewed the entire process as a "judicial assassination".

"In the absence of facts, information or evidence showing that he had been involved in criminal activity,” Mr Kavala could not reasonably be suspected of having committed the offence of attempting to overthrow the government,” the ECHR said.

There was "no plausible reason" to suspect that Mr Kavala had committed any criminal offence at all, it added.

Updated: July 11, 2022, 2:22 PM