Turkey’s top court has ruled that the detention of civil society activist Osman Kavala — who has been held in prison for more than three years without a conviction — did not violate his rights to liberty and security.
Last year the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ordered Ankara to free the businessman-turned activist, who had been held on charges of trying to overthrow the government, because Turkish authorities had failed to provide “facts, information or evidence”.
Tuesday’s decision by Turkey’s Constitutional Court to keep Mr Kavala behind bars is in connection with a new case against him. The Strasbourg-based court had ruled that his rights to liberty and security were violated in a previous prosecution.
“This is a blatant flouting of the European court judgment,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey director for Human Rights Watch. The court is “not looking at the legality of the detention but is basically serving political interests [in which] the unlawful use of detention is used as a weapon to punish people without a court decision”.
Mr Kavala’s prolonged detention has chilled civil society in Turkey. This week, parliament passed a law that expands control over NGOs’ operations, including the ability to replace members on ambiguous terrorism charges.
His case has been closely followed by European capitals and the EU, which has become increasingly critical of the autocratic tendencies of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Mr Kavala, who ran projects to protect historic monuments and improve dialogue between Turks and Armenians, faces life in prison on charges of involvement in an abortive 2016 military coup, according to an indictment that accuses him of meeting European officials and supporting democratic freedoms to “render the government dysfunctional”.
The charges came eight months after another court found Mr Kavala not guilty on charges connected to an environmental protest in 2013 that prosecutors said was a front to overthrow Mr Erdogan. Despite his acquittal he remained incarcerated.
Mr Kavala has denied all the charges against him.
Mr Erdogan has publicly targeted Mr Kavala, saying he took money from “the famous Hungarian Jew”, in reference to American billionaire George Soros because he previously worked for Mr Soros’s Open Society Foundation. Last month, a presidential adviser was forced to resign after calling for Mr Kavala’s release, which Mr Erdogan said would “reward” the philanthropist.
Ms Sinclair-Webb said the court decisions were linked to the president’s speeches, “which contain instructions”.
Hopes among Mr Kavala’s supporters had been raised in recent weeks after Mr Erdogan pledged to improve human rights as his government sought to mend ties with the EU as the economy struggles with the fallout from the pandemic.
But last week Mr Erdogan indicated Turkey would not comply with another ECHR ruling to free his political rival Selahattin Demirtas, who led the second-biggest opposition party. The Kurdish politician has been in prison since 2016 on terrorism charges stemming from his speeches, which the ECHR said violated principles of pluralism and political debate.