Today, February 18, 2020, the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) and Freedom House issued the following joint statement on Turkey’s Gezi Park trial and the renewed arrest of Osman Kavala:
The juxtaposition of two legal orders today epitomizes Turkey’s politicized judiciary and deteriorating commitment to the rule of law.
First, a Turkish court acquitted nine defendants, including the prominent philanthropist and civil society leader Osman Kavala, of charges of attempting to overthrow the government through their participation in the 2013 nationwide Gezi Park protests. The court also lifted the arrest warrant for seven defendants who were to be tried in absentia.
The exoneration of the Gezi defendants was a welcome decision in what has been a baseless prosecution and an unjust trial in which defendants faced up to a lifetime in prison. Turkish civil society groups attended the final hearing en masse to show their solidarity with the defendants. Representatives of Turkey’s two largest opposition parties, as well as several foreign missions, also observed the proceedings. The European Parliament welcomed the acquittal following the hearing.
Then, mere hours after the court ordered the release of Kavala, who has been in prison for more than two years as the main defendant of the Gezi case, the Istanbul Chief Prosecutor issued a new arrest warrant as part of a different criminal investigation related to Turkey’s failed coup attempt of 2016—thereby keeping him in continued detention.
In December, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Kavala’s detention under the Gezi case was legally unjustified and violated his rights, calling for his immediate release. Now, by arresting Kavala under new charges, the Turkish prosecutor has effectively circumvented that ECHR order. The Turkish government used the same tactic last year to bypass a similar ECHR decision on another political detainee in Turkey, opposition leader Selahattin Demirtaş—acquitting Demirtaş in one case, only to open a new case against him while he was still in detention.
The two moves on Tuesday demonstrate the weaponization of the Turkish judiciary under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. This Gezi case has been emblematic of the politically motivated and baseless criminal charges levied against human rights defenders and government critics in Turkey. The court’s initial decision to accept an indictment with no evidence, and to proceed with the prosecution for over two years, is testament to the lack of due process. And the swift decision to issue a new arrest warrant for Kavala only hours after his acquittal shows the degradation of judicial independence in Turkey.
Today’s developments have shown once again that the crackdown against fundamental freedoms in Turkey is far from over. In order to guarantee basic and democratic rights for all citizens, Turkey must urgently work to restore judicial independence and return to the rule of law.
Illustration: Adapted from Murat Başol