By Ali Kucukgocmen
ISTANBUL (Reuters) -Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala and seven other accused delivered their final defence statements on Friday in a long-running case over nationwide protests held in 2013 that has strained Ankara’s ties with its Western allies.
Kavala, 64, has been in jail for 4-1/2 years without a conviction and denies the charges he and 15 others face over the Gezi protests, which began as small demonstrations in an Istanbul park and snowballed into nationwide anti-government unrest, in which eight protesters were killed.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and activists say the case is politically motivated and symbolic of a crackdown on dissent under President Tayyip Erdogan’s rule, claims the government denies.
The court had previously been expected to reach a verdict on Friday, but it postponed the hearing until Monday to give time for defence lawyers to finish their statements.
Prosecutor Edip Sahiner has said Kavala and architect Mucella Yapici should be convicted of attempting to overthrow the government through violence, which would carry a sentence of up to life in prison without parole.
Speaking to the court via video link from prison, Kavala said: “It is evident that those who issued the indictment did not feel constrained by laws, considering that they will receive political support as they intended to prolong my detention.”
The courtroom was packed with some 200 people, including opposition members, rights groups and Western diplomats.
COUNCIL OF EUROPE
Prosecutor Sahiner has said six others should be sentenced for aiding Kavala and Yapici, while asking that the case against the eight other defendants be separated.
Kavala and another defendant, whose case the prosecutor also said should be separated, are also accused of involvement in a coup attempt in 2016, which the ECHR said also lacks evidence.
The ECHR called for Kavala’s release in late 2019 and ruled his detention served to silence the philanthropist, whose civil society projects aimed to foster social change.
But Turkish courts have not freed Kavala, and Ankara faces being suspended from the Council of Europe rights watchdog, after “infringement proceedings” were launched due to his continued detention.
Embassies of Turkey’s Western allies, including the United States and Germany, echoed the call for Kavala’s release last year, prompting threats by Erdogan to expel their ambassadors.
Erdogan equates the Gezi protesters with Kurdish militants and those accused of orchestrating a failed 2016 coup and has targeted Kavala personally, saying Western allies would not release “bandits, murderers and terrorists” in their countries.
Kavala was acquitted in 2020 of charges related to the Gezi protests. Hours later another court ordered his arrest on a charge of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order related to the coup attempt.
That court later ruled to release him on that charge but ordered his detention on an espionage charge in the same case, a move critics said was aimed at circumventing the ECHR ruling.
Kavala’s acquittal along with eight others in the Gezi trial was overturned last year and the case was combined with the other charges against him.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Daren ButlerEditing by Alison Williams and Gareth Jones)