Turkey’s sentencing of activist Osman Kavala to life imprisonment has sparked “disappointment and anger” within Turkish circles, which was expressed by social media users and political party officials, as well as journalists, writers, lawyers and human rights activists.
At a time when international positions were issued in Europe, the United States and other countries, it was remarkable the large repercussions caused by the life sentence on the internal political scene, which has been living, since Monday evening, on the impact of “shock”, according to what the opposition media reported.
The Istanbul judiciary had issued the ruling against Kavala, without the possibility of reducing the sentence, after he was convicted of trying to overthrow the government, involvement in the 2016 coup, and financing the Gezi Park protests in 2013.
The verdict was issued by the 13th Criminal Court, and 17 people were sentenced to 18 years in prison, including those who live in Turkey: Aisha Mugila Yapci, Cidem Matir Utko, Minh Ozerden, and the accused, Hakan Altin Ai, Sharafeddin Can Atlay, Tayfun Kahraman, and Yegit. Ali Akmakji.
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Kavala has been imprisoned for four and a half years, and his continued detention without trial has caused tension between Ankara and Western countries, the last of which was at the beginning of this year, when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to expel 10 ambassadors, because of their demand for his release.
Over the past years, Kavala has always denied the charges against him, while his lawyers focused in their pleadings, Monday, on the lack of evidence against him, and “the politicization of the trial by the Turkish authorities.”
After the death sentence was issued against him, reactions were divided between two parties, the first of whom supported the decision, among the “Justice and Development Party” and its ally, the “National Movement”.
As for the other side, it included all Turkish opposition parties, with all its sects, in an unprecedented direction, especially since their positions condemned in their entirety the “permanent term”, and considered it “far from any legal or judicial steps.”
Devlet Bahçetli, an ally of Erdogan, said, “The judiciary must be respected. With many years of discussions on this subject, those who are trying to prevent it must accept everything by respecting this judiciary’s decision.”
On the other hand, Ahmet Davutoglu, leader of the Future Party, a former mentor of Erdogan, wrote on Twitter: “If you disrupt justice with long periods of detention, and ignore the law with contradictory decisions, your decision will not be respected!”
He continued, “The judiciary should not be based on political authority, but political authority should be based on justice. Consolidating the judiciary’s prestige at home and abroad is one of the most important priorities of democratic politics.”
The same applies to Ali Babacan, leader of the “Party of Democracy and Progress” and a former friend of Erdogan, who described what happened as a “great injustice”, saying: “The great injustice suffered by Osman Kavala and the other defendants harms our conscience.”
Babacan added on Tuesday: “There is no legal explanation for the decision taken. We will not succumb (..) to anger and hatred. We will live freely in a democratic state of law.”
In turn, the spokesman for the Islamic “Happiness Party”, Birol Aydin, considered in a tweet that “no force can stand by it to politicize the institution of justice and establish injustice.”
He added, “We say to all people and issues: justice first, justice for all, justice always.”
For its part, the Ankara Bar Association issued a statement saying that the ruling against Kavala is a “black mark in our legal history.”
“The Gezi Park protests have taken place in our history as the period when freedom of expression was used in the simplest and most direct way in our country,” the statement read.
He continued, “The verdict issued does not comply with the law and justice. Unfortunately, we are losing the status of being a state of law day after day. The judiciary is used as a tool for daily political politics, and this situation is unacceptable.”
On Monday, the United States criticized what it described as an “unjust condemnation”, saying that it “is incompatible with respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.”
Amnesty International also stated that the conviction of Kavala and other defendants “is a severe blow to human rights justice.”
This was also indicated by officials of opposition political parties, including the Republican People’s Party, the Good Party, the Democratic Party, and the Peoples’ Democratic Party.
“Justice does not come from the established courts. Some of the judges who work here have made their decisions in advance. They sign according to the orders they take,” Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the People’s Party, told reporters, referring to Kavala’s ruling and the Gezi Park case.
“What is Gezi? It is the voice of young people who chant for freedom in our democratic history. Gezi is a rebellion against oppression. Young people say we want to live freely in our country,” Kılıçdaroğlu added on Tuesday.
Ekrem Imamoglu, the mayor of Greater Istanbul, considered the decision in the case that it “harmed the conscience of millions of people,” adding: “This country has never accepted and accommodated decisions that were not taken with conscience.”
Meanwhile, the head of the Democratic Party, Gultekin Uysal, said: “Instead of activating justice and democracy, the government is interested in spreading fear. That is why we say justice for all, we say democracy for all.”
Kavala is the most prominent person in a group of football fans, environmental experts and artists who took part in the 2013 Taksim Square protests.
He is a businessman and also involved in charitable work, and was arrested at Istanbul Ataturk Airport on October 18, 2017, and is accused of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and “overthrowing the government”.
His lawyer said earlier that he was accused of being linked to the attempted coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July 2016, as well as financing anti-government demonstrations in 2013.
These two stations are considered “red lines” drawn by the ruling party in Turkey (Justice and Development), beginning during Erdogan’s rise to the political arena, and reaching the last stop, which was not before or after it, which is the events of the coup.
Erdogan has publicly and repeatedly attacked Kavala on several occasions, accusing him of “financing terrorists” and of being “Soros’ representative in Turkey”, in reference to the American billionaire George Soros.
Western media and newspapers opposed to the Turkish government have previously indicated that all those accused of trying to overthrow the latter and violently undermine the constitution have long insisted that they are “innocent”.
The group also includes an American academic, Henry Barkey, who is accused of having had contact with Kavala at the time of the 2016 coup attempt.
Over the past years, Turkey has ignored several decisions taken by the European Court of Human Rights that have pushed for the release of detainees like Kavala.
This prompted human rights organizations to urge the committee of ministers overseeing the court to initiate proceedings against Turkey for non-compliance, a measure that could lead to Ankara being suspended from the court.