(Washington, D.C.) — A Turkish court will tomorrow hear the case of Osman Kavala, the prominent human rights activist and philanthropist who has been incarcerated, without justification, in Istanbul’s Silivri prison since 2017.

The European Court of Human Rights – of which Turkey is a member – has ordered the release of Kavala, ruling that the Turkish government has “an ulterior purpose, namely to silence him as a human rights defender.” So far, Turkey’s government and courts have refused to comply with the ECHR’s binding order.

The persecution of Osman Kavala follows a pattern of deteriorating human rights under President Erdogan. In the past few years, the Turkish state has obtained one of the highest rates of incarceration of journalists in the world while many news outlets have been forced to either assume an uncritically pro-government stance or close down.

In 2018, Freedom House downgraded Turkey’s status to ‘not free’ in its Freedom in the World report, citing Kavala’s arrest as an indication of the deterioration of civil liberties and political rights in the country. In the World Press Freedom Index, Turkey is currently ranked 153rd out of 180 countries.

Last month, the Council of Europe said that it will begin infringement proceedings against Turkey if Kavala is not released, in accordance with the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling. Should the Council proceed, Turkey could see its membership or voting rights at the Council of Europe suspended altogether.

Turkish Democracy Project Senior Advisor Diliman Abdulkader has urged countries in Europe to stand up for Kavala and the rule of law in Turkey.

Turkish Democracy Project Senior Advisor Diliman Abdulkader said:

“Osman Kavala is one of Turkey’s most notable philanthropists and a defender of civil society and cross-cultural, cross-religious dialogue. The Turkish government and courts have detained Kavala without conviction in an effort to silence him. His incarceration is an outrage, and an express violation of the European Court of Human Rights’ binding judgement.

Kavala’s four-year detention is a distressing signal of Turkey’s crisis of human rights and democracy. European powers must stand by the Council of Europe’s commitment to take action against Turkey, and ramp up pressure on President Erdogan. Europe cannot stand by while Erdogan’s government continues his assault on Turkey’s civic infrastructure.”