A European body condemns Turkey’s sentencing of an activist for links to 2013 protests

ISTANBUL (AP) — A European governmental body that focuses on human rights, democracy and the rule of law on Saturday condemned the decision by Turkey’s Supreme Court to confirm the aggravated life sentence for activist and philanthropist Osman Kavala.

Kavala is the founder of a nonprofit organization, Anadolu Kultur, which focuses on cultural and artistic projects promoting peace and dialogue.

He was sentenced to life in prison without parole last year after a court found him guilty of attempting to overthrow the government by financing mass protests in 2013, known as the Gezi Park protests.

Kavala, 65, has been jailed in Silivri prison, on the outskirts of Istanbul, since he was detained in 2017.

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“We wish to express our deep consternation at the decision of the Turkish Court of Cassation which confirmed the aggravated life sentence for philanthropist Osman Kavala,” said John Howell and Stefan Schennach, co-researchers for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, or PACE, on Saturday.

They noted that the confirmation disregarded two decisions by the European Court of Human Rights, in 2019 and 2022, ordering his release.

Western governments and rights groups quickly condemned the court ruling at the time. Human rights groups said that Kavala was prosecuted with flimsy evidence and that the case was politically motivated.

In addition to Kavala, seven other defendants had been sentenced to 18 years over their involvement in the Gezi Park protests. Friday’s ruling upheld that sentence for four of the defendants, including lawyer and activist Can Atalay, 47, despite his being elected to parliament in May and earning legal immunity. The other sentenced defendants are Cigdem Mater, Mine Ozerden and Tayfun Kahraman.

Three activists out of the seven sentenced last year were released by the court.

The PACE co-researchers concluded that they will “continue to exert pressure on the Turkish authorities to comply with the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and release all defendants.”

Amnesty International also condemned Friday’s ruling, calling it “a politically-motivated blow for human rights.”

“The appeal court’s decision defies all logic given that the prosecuting authorities have repeatedly failed to provide any evidence to substantiate the baseless charges laid against them,” it added.

Kavala is one of the three candidates shortlisted for the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize, which will be awarded on Oct. 9 in Strasbourg, France, during a PACE plenary session.

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