SILIVRI (Reuters) - Defense lawyers walked out of a Turkish courtroom on Tuesday in protest against judges in the case of businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, who was again remanded as a trial continued over his involvement in 2013 protests.
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, who is now Turkey’s president.
The protests began in Istanbul’s Gezi Park and spread nationwide.
Lawyers for Kavala and other defendants requested that three judges on a panel recuse themselves, arguing that the court acted against legal procedures in listening to an additional witness without the lawyers or the defendants present.
The court rejected the request, prompting some 50 defense lawyers to walk out of the hearing. Observers in the courtroom were also removed and chanted: “Osman Kavala is our pride”.
The witness, Murat Papuc, whose statement was read at the hearing, claimed he was given gas masks said to be distributed from a venue affiliated with Kavala.
Asked to make a statement against the witness, Kavala, who faces life in jail if convicted, said he would not deliver his defense without his lawyer present but requested his release.
The judges concluded the hearing by remanding Kavala in jail while a most defense lawyers and observers were outside of the courtroom.
The indictment against Kavala cited tapped phone calls in which Kavala discussed sending pastries, milk, juice and gas masks to protesters as evidence that he financed the protests.
The European Court of Human Rights called in December for Kavala’s release saying there was a lack of reasonable suspicion that he committed an offence. The Turkish court said Tuesday the European court’s ruling was not final.
The next hearing on his case is set for Feb. 18. Fifteen other defendants are on trial along with Kavala, who is currently the only one in jail.
Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Jonathan Spicer