ISTANBUL (Reuters) -President Tayyip Erdogan slammed ambassadors of 10 countries, including the United States, Germany and France, over their call for philanthropist Osman Kavala’s release, saying Turkey should not be hosting them, in comments reported on Thursday.
The foreign ministry summoned the ambassadors on Tuesday for what it said was an “irresponsible” statement calling for a just and speedy resolution to Kavala’s case. He has been in prison since late 2017 without being convicted.
Kavala was acquitted last year of charges related to nationwide protests in 2013, but the ruling was overturned this year and combined with charges in another case related to a coup attempt in 2016. He has denied any wrongdoing.
In a statement this week, the ambassadors called on Turkey to secure Kavala’s swift release.
“I told our foreign minister: We can’t have the luxury of hosting this lot in our country. Is it for you to give Turkey such a lesson? Who do you think you are?” Erdogan was quoted as telling reporters on his plane returning from a trip to Africa.
He rejected any suggestion that the Turkish judiciary was not independent. “Our judiciary is one of the nicest examples of independence,” Haberturk news website reported him as saying.
Asked by reporters if Turkey would take any more measures against the ambassadors, foreign ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgic said Ankara had the liberty to take steps as it saw fit and would do so “when the time comes”, without elaborating.
“The duty of ambassadors is not to interfere in the domestic matters of the countries where they are posted,” Bilgic told a briefing in Ankara. “As an independent country, Turkey can take the necessary measures when it sees fit.”
Rights groups say Kavala’s case is emblematic of a crackdown on dissent under Erdogan.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) called for Kavala’s immediate release in late 2019 over a lack of reasonable suspicion that he committed an offence, ruling thathis detention served to silence him.
The Council of Europe has said it will begin infringementproceedings against Turkey if Kavala is not released. Turkey would be the second country against which infringementproceedings have been launched.
The other parties to the ambassadors’ statement were Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland and New Zealand.
Kavala has been charged with financing the nationwide protests in 2013 and with involvement in the 2016 failed putsch – charges that he has denied.
The next hearing in the case against Kavala and others will be held on Nov. 26.
(Reporting by Daren Butler and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans and Andrew Heavens)