[Marxism] 9 Acquitted in Landmark Trial of Protesters in Turkey
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Feb 18 10:22:51 MST 2020
NY Times, Feb. 18, 2020
9 Acquitted in Landmark Trial of Protesters in Turkey
By Carlotta Gall
SILIVRI, Turkey — A Turkish court ordered a prominent philanthropist,
Osman Kavala, acquitted of all charges and released from prison, one of
several surprising verdicts on Tuesday in an important human rights
trial that had been widely criticized as unjust.
Sixteen members of Turkish civil society, including Mr. Kavala, had
faced charges in a case seen as a litmus test of popular opposition to
the increasingly authoritarian rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
and the tightly controlled justice system.
Nine people in total were acquitted on Tuesday, and arrest warrants were
lifted for the remaining seven defendants, on the condition that they
appear in court. They have left the country and will be tried separately.
Charged with trying to overthrow the government by force, the defendants
faced trial for participating in the 2013 Taksim Square protests, when
demonstrators occupied Istanbul’s central square to halt the
construction of a shopping mall in one of the city’s few parks.
The court, packed with friends and supporters of the defendants, erupted
into applause and cheers at the culmination of a trial that has been
seen as one of most important in Turkey. Amnesty International, in a
statement ahead of the trial, said the outcome “will show the rest of
the world whether respect for human rights has any part to play in the
Turkish justice system.”
Mr. Kavala, who has been in jail for over two years, faced a life
sentence in solitary confinement without parole, and was met with
applause from the public when he was brought into the court. The
prosecutor had demanded the same “aggravated life” sentence for two more
defendants, an architect, Mucella Yapici, and a child development
specialist, Yigit Aksakoglu, and sentences of up to 20 years for others.
Mr. Kavala, 63, entered the courthouse on Tuesday carrying a blue
plastic bag. He raised his hand acknowledging the applause from the
public gallery, but did not look around. He stooped slightly to bend
over the microphone, referring only to a ruling by the European Court of
Human Rights, which he said had found that there was no reason to
suspect that he had committed a crime.
The case was part of a yearslong crackdown by the government of
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after a bloody coup attempt against him
in 2016. Tens of thousands of people have been detained and put on
trial, many of them with little connection to the coup.
The defendants in the Taksim Square case were charged in 2018, five
years after the initial protests. Mr. Erdogan, who personally supported
the development project, saw the protests as a direct challenge to his
rule and had them crushed with riot police and tear gas.
But rights organizations have criticized the prosecution as lacking
solid evidence and using arguments based on conspiracy theories. Ms.
Yapici, who is a member of Taksim Solidarity, a group that campaigns on
urban development issues, was acquitted in an earlier trial for her role
in the protests.
“We have seen this movie before,” one of the defendants, Can Atalay, a
lawyer and member of Taksim Solidarity, posted on Twitter over the
weekend. “The evidence is vague, witnesses are controversial, and the
verdict is pre-ordered. They trashed the law.”
Another defendant, Tayfun Kahraman, who is an urban planner at the
Istanbul mayor’s office, told an opposition channel, Halk TV, “We are
prosecuted because we raised the demand of democratic rights.”
“Actually millions of people are on trial today,” he added. “The ones
who took to the streets in 80 provinces are on trial. Today in Turkey
democracy is on trial.”
Defense lawyers have protested that they were not given the transcripts
of phone calls used as evidence in the trial and were not permitted to
question a prosecution witness.
Hundreds of friends and supporters of the defendants turned out to
attend the trial, filling first the seats and then the corridors of the
high security courthouse. Armed paramilitary police officers stood guard
The newly elected mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, who defeated Mr.
Erdogan’s candidate in a marathon election battle last year, voiced
support for the defendants ahead of the trial, saying that he had also
attended the Taksim Square protests.
The rights organization Amnesty International had accused the Turkish
government of trying to rush through a verdict to avoid having to
release Mr. Kavala, after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that
extended pretrial detention violated his rights.
“It is time for Turkey to end the relentless crackdown on dissenting
voices,” the statement said. “Osman Kavala must be immediately released
from prison and all defendants acquitted.”
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