(Washington, D.C.) — The Turkish Democracy Project (TDP) commends the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers for their landmark decision on February 2, to refer Turkey to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for its refusal to release human right activist Osman Kavala, as dictated by the Court’s judgement.

A prominent human rights activist and philanthropist critical of Turkish President Recep Erdogan, Osman Kavala has been imprisoned since October 2017 for alleged involvement in the 2013 Gezi Park anti-government protests and the 2016 attempted coup – charges which Human Rights Watch have said are baseless.

In 2019, the ECHR ruled that Kavala was being persecuted due to his work as a human-rights defender, and that his pre-trial detention was motivated by President Erdogan’s campaign to silence, intimidate, and dissuade dissent emanating from Turkish civil society and ordinary citizens.

Despite having been found guilty of violating the Convention of Human Rights, to which Turkey is legally bound as a Council of Europe (CoE) member, Ankara continues to detain Kavala. Where states disregard decisions taken by the CoE they can face infringement proceedings under Article 46.4 of the Convention.

Turkey was handed a last chance “formal notice” by the Council on December 3, giving Ankara until January 19 to comply by releasing Kavala. However, Turkey postponed Kavala’s upcoming hearing until February 21 – a calculated move which ensured the country would fall into noncompliance and force infringement proceedings.

CoE infringement proceedings have only ever been implemented in one other case concerning Azerbaijan in 2017, when the key opposition leader was imprisoned prior to an election. Shortly after proceedings began, the government released the politician. Cases concerning other CoE members imprisoning opposition and dissidents have never escalated to the disciplinary mechanism of last resort.

Should the ECHR find Turkey guilty of violating its legal obligations to the CoE, it would be subject to a wide range of political sanctions. Since the infringement proceedings have never before been seen to their conclusion, the exact penalty is unknown, though the CoE is likely to suspend Turkey’s voting rights.

Commenting on the Committee’s decision, TDP’s executive director, Madeleine Joelson, said:

The Council of Europe’s almost unprecedented decision to refer Turkey to the ECHR demonstrates the deplorable state of human rights under Erdogan. Osman Kavala and the thousands of political prisoners, including Selahattin Demirtas, detained in Turkey should be released immediately.

Failing this, the 46 other nations that are party to the Council of Europe must finally take notice of what is happening in Turkey. The values enshrined in the Convention must be upheld, just as Erdogan’s illiberal excesses can no longer be ignored.”