Kavala: A case which set Turkey in collision with the West

Orla Guerin
BBC News, Istanbul


AyseBugra’s survival is dependent on the letters she writes to her husband Osmankavala. He is currently behind prison bars.

The curly-haired and gaunt Philanthropist was convicted for nothing but has served four years behind bars.

According to the European Court of Human Rights, the 64-year old has been tried for shaming him as an human rights defender. According to Human Rights Organizations, his case represents just one of many in Turkey under President Recep Takyip Erdogan.

The wife of his 33 year marriage, who is a well-respected academic, visits him once a month. Covid has created a glass panel that separates them. They are reunited by the written word.

She said, “We like to read the same books.” She said, “We communicate with each other by writing, sharing our thoughts and reading the same books. We live in spite everything.

“His absence can be found everywhere”

Osman Kavala was charged with a variety of offenses.

First, he was accused of financing and orchestrating nationwide anti-government demonstrations which erupted last year. While he was cleared, he faced new accusations of spying and being involved in the 2016 attempted coup. According to the US State Department, these are “specious allegations”.

The contents of his book-lined office remain the same as they were at the time of his arrest, filled with sculptures and framed artifacts. His wife observed that his absence was everywhere, and glancing about the space.

“He was a good listener and would always try to understand. He felt that he could communicate with everyone. He believed dialogue was essential to create bridges among people. Even during the country’s increasing polarisation, my spouse continued this tradition.”

Kavala, a prisoner in Silivri on the outskirts Istanbul’s Silivri jail said to the BBC that the judiciary had been “used as a tool of retribution in accordance with the priority of the government”. Our questions were answered by him in written responses.

“After 2016’s failed coup being imprisoned without evidence was a common practice. Also, expulsion from the public sector became the norm,” he said. “The current way Turkey is being run does not seem like a true democracy.”

He admits that he might not feel totally free once he is released from jail.

Anadolu Kultur

Once I am free, I will feel more obliged to think carefully and find the right words to convey my feelings. Some issues will be dealt with in silence for me.

Osman Kavala
From jail, write to BBC

Can he be liberated soon?

Next hearing will be held Friday. Ayse says that she never gives up hope because it leads to despair.

Turkey has been in constant conflict with its Western allies as well as the Council of Europe through his ongoing detention. Turkey’s militant leader appears not to be bothered by this.

If he does not get his freedom by the end of this month, then the Council will threaten to start rare infringement proceedings. This could ultimately lead to Turkey’s expulsion from the human rights council of 47 nations.

The European Court of Human Rights has been calling for Kavala’s freedom two years ago. Ten Western diplomats were threatened briefly with expulsion when they echoed the call.

Erdogan took aim at the court, attacking it and slandering him about his connections to George Soros, a billionaire philanthropist.

He said, “The European Court of Human Rights made a decision.” He said, “They want Turkey to be convicted regarding the Soros left-over.” Are you willing to release terrorists, murderers or bandits from your country? He asked.

Turkish President Erdogan has previously compared justice to a plant. He said that underwatering plants will dry them up, while excessive watering can cause them to wilt. In March, he announced a human rights action plan.

International human rights groups claim that the plan behind this is to destroy human rights protections, and weaken the rule of the law.

Emma Sinclair Webb from Human Rights Watch Istanbul states that “there’s a hollowing of democracy.” Tens of thousands were detained on false terrorism charges. Turkey locks up critics.

Gunal Kursun was a former human rights activist and police arrived to arrest him. Kursun had been with other activists at an event on July 2017 about human rights.

The door was opened, he stated. “It was hands-up that this was a raid and I was detained.” For me and my friend, it was quite shocking. We had been watching people being taken into custody for 20 years, but this was the first time that it ever happened to us.

Demonstrators clash with Turkish riot police over jailing of three opposition MPs from HDP in June 2020

Getty Images
Turkey: Jailed

  • 2,532 Life after the 2016 failed coup

  • 4,000Pro-Kurdish HDP party member is jailed

  • 3,625Imprisoned because of insulting the President

  • 67Journalists in Jail

Sources: Anadolu agency; EU, Turkish justice ministry, IFJ

Osmankavala was soon in prison with Dr Kursun who works as a criminal lawyer. After spending more than 100 consecutive days behind bars, Kursun is currently free.

He said that although it was hurtful to be charged with terrorism, there were plenty of people who could help him.

He said that there were hundreds of thousands of people who are facing the same silly claim. And Turkish prisons are filled with these types of people. This was my only cure.

He was dressed smartly for work, and he met me on a beautiful sunny day on the Bosporus shores. But his world is smaller than it used to be. He is currently in an unnamed prison.

Gunal Kursun


They won’t allow me to lecture. They do not allow me to practice law. They won’t allow me to write. Today, I am allowed to breathe.

Gunal Kursun
Advocate for Human Rights

After the coup, he was forced to resign from his position as assistant professor of criminal laws. Official figures show that around 125,000 people were expelled by decrement in 2016.

Gunal Kursun worries about Turkey’s future five years after its founding. Turkey’s Western allies also see an erosion of democracy and freedom speech.

He stated, “I think that Turkey will become like Russia if the government continues to function.” It has happened in a certain sense. It is becoming more difficult every day. The government can easily criminalize anyone who speaks out against human rights violations.

For international concern about rights in Turkey, Osman Kala was questioned by us. We sought to interview the Turkish government. The response came back empty handed.

Source: BBC.com

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