December 24, 2019 / 10:21 AM / 2 months ago

Turkey keeps businessman in jail despite European court release call

SILIVRI, Turkey (Reuters) - A Turkish court ruled on Tuesday that businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala should be kept in jail despite a call for his release by the European Court of Human Rights, as a trial over his involvement in 2013 protests continued.

Kavala has been in custody for more than two years, charged with attempting to overthrow the government by organizing and funding protests against then-Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan which started in Istanbul’s Gezi Park and spread nationwide.

Kavala, who faces life in jail if convicted, denies the allegations. Fifteen other defendants are on trial along with him but he is the only one in custody. Their trial was adjourned on Tuesday until Jan. 28.

The Turkish court said it had decided to keep Kavala in jail due to the severity of the alleged crimes and was awaiting a response from the justice ministry on whether the ECHR ruling was final.

The European court called for his immediate release two weeks ago, saying there was a lack of reasonable suspicion that he had committed an offence. ECHR rulings are legally binding but Turkey has frequently not implemented them.

“The ECHR was very clear. It orders that he (Kavala) be released immediately and Turkey’s court has not abided by this ruling,” said Garo Paylan, a lawmaker from the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

“We saw once again that the judiciary in Turkey has collapsed,” he said after observing the hearing. “The president still can’t accept that Gezi was a protest action and wants to label it as a terrorist action.”

Critics of Erdogan’s government have questioned the independence of Turkish courts, especially since a crackdown following a failed coup in 2016. Erdogan and his AK Party say the judiciary makes independent decisions.

The indictment cited tapped phone calls in which Kavala discussed sending pastries, milk, juice and gas masks to protesters as evidence that he financed the protests.

Two police officers involved in the crackdown on the protests at the time told the court on Tuesday they had not personally seen Kavala taking part in or directing violent acts.

Kavala says his detention was unlawful and has requested release, saying witnesses had not given the court any information regarding him directing the violent acts.

“Since all the activities in the indictment are activities that do not involve a crime, this indictment is a document that has a quality of expressing that I am not guilty,” Kavala told the court on Tuesday.

Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Ezgi Erkoyun and Catherine Evans

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