Osman Kavala’s fate matters – POLITICO

Başak Çalı and Philip Leach represent Osman Kavala at the European Court of Human Rights.

When war, geopolitics, energy restrictions and inflation take center stage on the continent, is there a risk that human rights and the rule of law will be forgotten? In such a context, does the credibility of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the fate of an unjustly imprisoned man really matter?

As human rights lawyers, we fervently believe this is the case. And as the legal representatives of 65-year-old political prisoner Osman Kavala, we know that what happens to him in a prison outside Istanbul is of the utmost importance — not just for him and his family, but for the future of the rule of law and human rights in Turkey and throughout Europe.

Kavala is a successful businessman, civil society activist and human rights defender, working in art, culture, environment and collective memory. And this week marks his fifth year behind bars, as he now faces life imprisonment.

He was first arrested in October 2017, during a political crackdown on government critics. He was accused – in an unintelligible indictment – ​​of attempting to overthrow the government, and even the constitutional order, in connection with the nationwide Gezi Park protests that erupted four years prior, and the failed coup of 2016.

Two years after his initial detention, in December 2019, the ECHR reviewed all charges against Kavala, and finding no evidence to support the charges, the court called for his immediate release. He concluded that the case against him amounted to the criminalization of fundamental rights, such as peaceful protest and freedom of expression, and that it was clearly an attempt “to silence him as a ‘NGO activist and human rights defender’ – as well as dissuading others in Turkey from carrying out similar work.

But he never achieved freedom.

In a move the court described as “circumvention of the law”, Kavala was released twice, only to be immediately re-arrested without seeing the light of day, although no new evidence was ever presented.

Then, in April this year, a local court in Istanbul found him guilty and sentenced him to an aggravated life sentence in relation to the Gezi Park protests, despite the ECHR finding that there wasn’t even enough evidence to arrest him, let alone convict him. Meanwhile, seven equally innocent co-defendants – civil society activists, architects, lawyers, academics and filmmakers – were sentenced to 18 years each for aiding him.

However, in a historic decision handed down last July, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights once again condemned Turkey. The court said that essentially nothing had changed since the last time it had considered his case, and therefore Kavala should be released.

Beyond the devastating personal impact on him and his family, Kavala’s case has now become a litmus test of Turkey’s standing in Europe. Ankara’s persistent refusal to implement not one but two ECHR rulings to release an illegally detained human rights defender has put the country on a collision course with the remaining 45 members of the Council of Europe. , which must maintain the authority and legitimacy of the Court and its judgments.

The case is also a critical test for the future of European human rights institutions, which were rocked by Russia’s expulsion from the Council of Europe in March following its invasion of the EU. ‘Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the Court is again facing challenges from the UK, where new Prime Minister Liz Truss has already ominously sought powers to override the ECHR, and the former Minister for Interior Suella Braverman has spoken out in favor of Britain leaving the Court. it would be joining the company of Russia and Belarus.

At its September meeting to consider the Kavala case, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers warned that his release was necessary in order “to maintain the authority of the Court and of the Convention system “. But neither two major court rulings nor high-level diplomacy have yet succeeded in resolving the legal or political impasse in Turkey.

For now, the spotlight is on the Turkish judges who will review Kavala’s continued detention and sentencing – they are the ones who have the obligation to secure his release. And for Turkish judges, being brave enough to free Osman Kavala would not only be a beacon of hope for the country, but it would also help renew a sense of optimism across Europe at a time of war, loss and of trips.


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