Today, February 5, 2021, an Istanbul court resumed its controversial trial of prominent Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala and Turkish-American academic Henri Barkey (the latter in absentia) on the ludicrous charges of aiding the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey and committing espionage. In a devastating decision, the court ordered the merging of the Kavala-Barkey case with another case that charges Kavala and seven other civil society leaders with plotting the 2013 “Gezi park” protests—charges for which Kavala had already been tried and acquitted last year.
The case is among the most outrageous of the onslaught of political prosecutions pursued by the Turkish government in recent years. Neither of the indictments against Kavala and his co-defendants—the one related to the Gezi protests, and the one related to coup-plotting and espionage—contain evidence of criminal activity by any of the defendants. Leading Turkish and international organizations have denounced both cases as legally baseless acts targeting Turkey’s pro-democracy civil society. An Istanbul court admitted as much last year when it acquitted all defendants in the so-called Gezi trial. But a recent decision by a lower court to order a retrial of that case only goes to show how politicized Turkey’s judiciary has become under Erdoğan.
Moreover, Turkey’s continued imprisonment of Kavala is a blatant defiance of the European Court of Human Rights, which ordered his immediate release more than a year ago, in December 2019. Adding insult to injury, the baseless claims against Kavala, Barkey, and their soon-to-be co-defendants in yet another sham trial are a deeply troubling example of the Turkish government’s conspiratorial views about the United States.
In his speech yesterday to the State Department, President Joseph Biden emphasized the promotion of democracy and human rights as central to U.S. foreign policy. Earlier this week, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan reminded his Turkish counterpart of the U.S. commitment to “supporting democratic institutions and the rule of law.” POMED urges the Biden administration to put these important words into action and strongly press the Turkish government to immediately end this appalling prosecution.
Illustration: Adapted from Murat Başol