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Trial against philanthropist, dozens resumes in Turkey

ISTANBUL (AP) – The trial against prominent Turkish civil rights figure Osman Kavala resumed yesterday – the 1,539th day of his pre-trial detention – without his participation.

The hearing is taking place as a January 19 Council of Europe deadline that could trigger infringement procedures looms. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2019 that Kavala’s rights had been violated and ordered his release. But Turkey has repeatedly refused to do so, most recently in a hearing in late December.

Philanthropist Kavala, who is in Silivri prison on the outskirts of Istanbul, said in October he would no longer attend the trial via videoconference because he no longer had faith that he will receive a free trial.

Kavala, 64, is accused of financing nationwide anti-government protests in 2013 and helping orchestrate a coup attempt three years later.

He denies the charges, which carry a life sentence without parole.

He was acquitted in February 2020 of charges in connection with the 2013 Gezi Park protests. As supporters awaited his release, Kavala was re-arrested on new charges.

The acquittal was later overturned and linked to charges relating to the 2016 coup attempt.

That trial is now part of a merged case involving 51 other defendants, including fans of the Besiktas soccer club who were acquitted six years ago of charges related to the Gezi protests before that decision also was overturned.

Taksim Solidarity, a group defending the small Gezi Park in central Istanbul, said ahead of the hearing the peaceful 2013 protests based on constitutional rights and demanding democracy, could not be tarnished through the judiciary.

Recently, Kavala’s case also caused a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and 10 Western countries, including the United States (US), France and Germany, after they called for his release.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan openly disdains Kavala, accusing him of being the “Turkish leg” of billionaire US philanthropist George Soros, whom Erdogan alleges has been behind insurrections in many countries. He threatened to kick out Western envoys in October for meddling in Turkey’s internal affairs.

The European Court of Human Rights’ 2019 decision said Kavala’s imprisonment aimed to silence him and other human rights defenders and was not supported by evidence of an offense.

The Council of Europe, a 47-member bloc that upholds human rights, notified Turkey in December that it intended to refer the case to the court to determine whether Turkey refused to abide by final judgments, which are binding.

It called on Turkey to release Kavala immediately and conclude the criminal procedures without delay. It asked Turkey to submit its views by January 19.

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