(Washington, D.C.) — The Turkish Democracy Project (TDP) has condemned the life sentence handed down today to prominent human rights activist and philanthropist, Osman Kavala. A Turkish court found Kavala guilty of attempting to overthrow the Turkish government and sentenced him to life in prison without parole.
A long-time activist and opponent to President Erdogan, Osman Kavala has been detained for the past four years without conviction and on trumped up charges. He is incarcerated in Istanbul’s high-security Silivri Prison, notorious for its ill-treatment and torture of prisoners. Despite a blatant lack of evidence and calls from the international community for his release, Kavala was found guilty of having financed anti-government protests in 2013 and playing a part in the 2016 attempted coup.
The European Court of Human Rights, of which Turkey is a member, has made repeated calls for Turkey to release Osman Kavala. In 2019, the ECHR ruled that the Turkish government had “an ulterior purpose, namely to silence him as a human rights defender”. The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers made a landmark decision this February when it initiated infringement proceedings against Turkey for its refusal to release Kavala. Despite having been found guilty of violating the Convention of Human Rights – to which Turkey is legally bound as a Council of Europe member – and facing a severe and unprecedented disciplinary penalty, Kavala’s detention continued.
Under President Erdogan, the Turkish government has systematically cracked down on opposition politicians, civil society activists and journalists. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has found that more than 200 journalists and media professionals have been imprisoned by the government in the last five years. RSF has named Turkey one of the ‘world’s leading jailers of journalists’. Since Erdogan assumed office as President in 2014, 12,800 people have been convicted of criticizing the President and his policies.
Using the failed 2016 coup attempt as a pretext, Erdogan has also arrested huge numbers of Turkish judges, civil servants, and military officers, with estimates running to 150,000 detainees. Meanwhile, the Arrested Lawyers Initiative has found that more than 1,600 lawyers have been arrested and prosecuted for freely defending their clients. The President’s success in co-opting the judiciary was recently evidenced when the Constitutional Court forced the closure of the pro-Kurdish HDP party and banned 451 of its elected officials.
Commenting on Kavala’s sentence, Ambassador Mark Wallace, CEO of the Turkish Democracy Project, said:
“Osman Kavala’s conviction is proof that no judicial independence remains in Recep Erdogan’s Turkey. The Turkish President has effectively captured every branch of government and is abusing this power to brutally silence opposition. This latest and deeply egregious example of Turkey’s autocratic turn must not go unpunished.
The US, UK, and European allies must impose severe diplomatic penalties on Turkey for its indefinite imprisonment of Kavala. We urge the international community to call for Kavala’s immediate release as well as the release of all activists, journalists and political opponents currently imprisoned under intolerable conditions and on the basis of fabricated evidence.”