[Marxism] A Hint of Freedom for a Turkish Activist. Then Back to Jail.

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Feb 19 06:49:47 MST 2020


NY Times, Feb. 19, 2020
A Hint of Freedom for a Turkish Activist. Then Back to Jail.
By Carlotta Gall

SILIVRI, Turkey — A Turkish court on Tuesday acquitted nine people 
accused of trying to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a 
surprising verdict interpreted as an important concession by the 
government in a trial widely criticized as unjust both at home and abroad.

Among those ordered released was a prominent philanthropist, Osman 
Kavala, who has spent over two years in detention. But within hours the 
Istanbul prosecutor announced that he had ordered him kept in custody in 
connection with an investigation into a coup attempt in 2016.

At day’s end, Mr. Kavala remained in police custody, and he may now face 
even more serious charges.

Well-wishers who had been waiting for his release near the prison after 
the verdict eventually began to disperse. According to one news outlet, 
Mr. Kavala had already been transferred from prison to police 
headquarters in central Istanbul to be detained on new charges.

“This decision resembles a deliberate and planned cruelty,” Milena 
Buyum, the Turkey campaigner for Amnesty International, said in a 
statement. “While it was decided to release Osman Kavala after keeping 
him in jail for around two and a half years, closing down the door 
towards freedom again is a destructive blow to himself, his family and 
everyone in Turkey defending justice.”

AN INMATE'S TALE“I have been in prison in Turkey for two years,” Osman 
Kavala wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed piece last year.
Under Mr. Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule, Mr. Kavala’s case 
has come to symbolize the arbitrary injustice being meted out by the 
government across the country since the 2016 coup attempt.

Unlike the tens of thousands who have been rounded up for alleged links 
to the coup, Mr. Kavala and his co-defendants were prosecuted for taking 
part in protests in Taksim Square, in central Istanbul, in 2013.

Demonstrators occupied the square to halt the construction of a shopping 
mall in one of the city’s few parks. 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 officers and 
tear gas.

Prosecutors had demanded life sentences in solitary confinement, without 
parole, for three of the defendants, including Mr. Kavala, and up to 20 
years for the others.

In all, the prosecutors brought charges against 16 defendants, nine of 
whom were acquitted on Tuesday. The seven others are living abroad and 
had their arrest warrants withdrawn, although they will have to appear 
in court on their return.

Human rights organizations and defense lawyers said that the case was 
deeply flawed and that prosecutors lacked credible evidence. The 
unexpected acquittals, they said, were undoubtedly a political decision, 
and came after sustained pressure on Turkey from Western governments to 
free Mr. Kavala.

The verdict, analysts said, may also reflect the government’s reading of 
the shifting political winds in the country, which have increasingly 
buffeted Mr. Erdogan since he and his party suffered a defeat in mayoral 
elections last year.

“Something is changing,” Can Atalay, one of the defendants, said as he 
embraced well-wishers after the verdict. Asked what he thought had led 
to the acquittal, he said: “I don’t know. I don’t know. Something is 
changing.”

The court, packed with friends and supporters of the defendants, erupted 
into applause and cheers at the announcement of the verdict.

As the eight-month trial went on, the defendants drew growing support, 
including from the newly elected mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, who 
said on Twitter over the weekend that he had attended the protests on 
several occasions.

In a widespread campaign on social media, other supporters updated their 
social media accounts in solidarity and posted photos of themselves at 
the Taksim Square protests.

Few doubted that the verdict Tuesday reflected a decision from the top 
of government.

“It can only be read politically,” Tora Pekin, a defense lawyer, said. 
“It was a political case and a political ruling came out of it.”

Mr. Pekin described the trial as “extremely ridiculous” and warned that 
the acquittals did not mean Turkey’s justice system was improving. “We 
have a saying that one flower does not make a spring,” he said.

Mr. Kavala, 63, was met with applause from the public when he entered 
the court Tuesday carrying a blue plastic bag. He raised his hand 
acknowledging the support, but did not look around.

Mr. Kavala stooped slightly over the microphone and cited a ruling by 
the European Court of Human Rights, which found that there were no 
grounds for Turkey to prosecute him.

Human rights organizations and lawyers said the European Court’s ruling 
in December may have spurred the Turkish government to order the 
acquittals to avoid embarrassment.

Mr. Erdogan, who has been pushing for the European Union to reopen 
chapters of Turkey’s entry to the bloc, has come under pressure from 
European governments to release Mr. Kavala and end some of the most 
egregious human rights abuses Turkey.

Before the trial, Amnesty International said the outcome would “show the 
rest of the world whether respect for human rights has any part to play 
in the Turkish justice system.”

The case of 11 human rights activists, including two employees of 
Amnesty International, who were detained after organizing a conference 
in Istanbul in 2017, is also being closely watched ahead of a hearing in 
Istanbul Wednesday.

The rearrest of Mr. Kavala was interpreted as a sign that Mr. Erdogan 
may not be ready to ease up on his opponents.

Ramazan Demir, a lawyer, said on Twitter that the government was playing 
a legal game so it could try wriggle out from the European Court of 
Human Rights decision. “They make the new system they founded work like 
clockwork,” he wrote. “We only watch.”

Yildiray Ogur, a columnist for the daily newspaper Karar, said Mr. 
Kavala was a victim of political quarrels between cliques inside the 
judiciary. “Without one single piece of evidence against him,” he said, 
“and accusations that are nothing more than conspiracy theories. Very sad.”

Mr. Erdogan’s supporters and pro-government media criticized the 
acquittals, insisting that the Taksim Square protests had been an 
obvious attempt to overthrow the government, unseat Mr. Erdogan and 
undermine his plan to run for president the following year.

Some claimed the protests were part of a conspiracy linked to the 
American-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, who is wanted in Turkey over 
accusations that he masterminded the coup attempt in 2016.

“It was a clear organization to prevent Recep Tayyip Erdogan from 
becoming the president,” Melih Altinok, a columnist with a 
pro-government newspaper, Sabah, said on a television news channel A Haber.

Mustafa Varank, the minister for industry and technology, said on 
Twitter that the Taksim Square protests were a betrayal of Turkey’s 
democracy and economy. He said they had been “aimed to overthrow the 
elected government with vandalism, and turned into a festival for terror 
groups.”

Rights organizations criticized the prosecution as lacking solid 
evidence and using arguments based on conspiracy theories. Defense 
lawyers 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.

One defendant, Mucella Yapici, an architect, ended her final statement 
to the court with a tribute to the demonstrators who died during the 
2013 protests, rousing loud applause from the gallery.

“I bow my head in respect before those eight kids who were killed and 
all those friends who lost their eye sight,” she said. “The judgment is 
yours.”




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