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Turkey: Civil society leader Osman Kavala and 15 others charged over Gezi protests

A journalist stands in front of a poster featuring Osman Kavala during a press conference by his lawyers, in Istanbul, Turkey, 31 October 2018
A journalist stands in front of a poster featuring Osman Kavala during a press conference by his lawyers, in Istanbul, Turkey, 31 October 2018

OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images

This statement was originally published on hrw.org on 21 February 2019.

Turkey's president and government should stop making baseless accusations, and the Istanbul prosecutor should drop the new charges against 16 people, including Osman Kavala, that view the Gezi protests as a coup attempt, Human Rights Watch said today.

Turkish media on February 20 reported that an Istanbul prosecutor has prepared a 657-page indictment holding Kavala, a civic leader, and 15 others responsible for organizing and financing the 2013 mass protests that began in Istanbul's Gezi park over the government's urban redevelopment plans, and spread to cities throughout Turkey. The accused face a possible sentence of life in prison without parole on multiple charges, including the central charge of "attempting to overthrow the government or partially or wholly prevent its functions."

"President Erodoğan and his government have concocted an entirely politically motivated case against Osman Kavala and 15 others," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "Reinventing the Gezi protests as an externally funded coup attempt organized by Kavala is a cynical attempt to rewrite history and justify decimating Turkey's independent civil society. Osman Kavala and Yiğit Aksakaloğlu should be released and the charges against all 16 dropped."

The indictment names the government at the time of the protests, including then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and members of the cabinet, among the complainants, the reports say. Human Rights Watch has learnt that Kavala's lawyers have not seen the indictment, which is being reviewed by Istanbul Heavy Penal Court No. 30.

Kavala has been in pretrial detention since November 2017. Yiğit Aksakaloğlu, another activist reportedly named in the indictment, was detained in November 2018, when an inquiry into Kavala and the Gezi park protests was broadened. The 14 other people indicted, all of them still at liberty, are: Can Dündar, a journalist; Mehmet Ali Alabora, an actor; Ayşe Pınar Alabora; Mücella Yapıcı, an architect; Hakan Altınay, an academic; Çiğdem Mater, a film producer; Gökçe Yılmaz; Handan Meltem Arıkan; Hanzade Hikmet Germiyanoğlu; İnanç Ekmekci; Mine Özerden; Can Atalay, a lawyer; Tayfun Kahraman; and Yiğit Ekmekçi.

Human Rights Watch has issued earlier statements on Kavala's arrest, most recently a joint call with Amnesty International for his release, and a condemnation of the November 2018 investigation.

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