Turkey: IBAHRI calls for unconditional and immediate release of the arbitrarily detained Osman Kavala

Wednesday 27 October 2021

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) calls on Turkey’s authorities to release Osman Kavala unconditionally and immediately as per the legally binding decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered more than two years ago. The philanthropist, civil society leader and human rights activist has been arbitrarily detained for almost four years. A Turkish court recently further extended his detention until a hearing scheduled for 26 November 2021.

Mr Kavala was initially arrested in October 2017 on charges of 'attempting to overthrow the government or to prevent it from exercising its functions’ (Article 312 of the Turkish Criminal Code). In February 2020, after more than two years in pre-trial detention, he was cleared of the charges levelled against him. These included taking part in nationwide demonstrations about a broad range of concerns, including attacks on freedom of the press, of expression and of assembly, originating at Istanbul's Gezi Park in 2013. However, he was immediately re-arrested for allegedly supporting the 2016 coup attempt on grounds of 'attempting to overthrow the constitutional order through force and violence' (Article 309 of the Turkish Criminal Code). An appeals court later overturned the Gezi Park acquittals, setting the stage for the current, ongoing trial.

According to the United Nations appointed Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, the case of Mr Kavala is particularly significant as it has become ‘emblematic of a pattern of judicial harassment against human rights defenders in Turkey.’

IBAHRI Vice-Chair Mark Stephens CBE, Howard Kennedy, London stated: ‘Osman Kavala’s liberty is being illegitimately appropriated, and the IBAHRI condemns his prolonged detention and the incessant hearing postponements. The Turkish authorities’ continuous detention of Mr Kavala, despite the absence of any credible evidence and in flagrant defiance of a binding judgment from the European Court of Human Rights plainly demonstrates a lack of commitment to the rule of law and human rights. Mr Kavala’s case is indicative of the systematic crackdown on human rights defenders in Turkey to silence dissent. The UN Human Rights Committee has held that 48 hours is a sufficient amount of time to hold an individual in pre-trial detention and that any extension “must remain absolutely exceptional and be justified under the circumstances”. In the case of Mr Kavala, he has spent 47 months behind bars without a single guilty verdict adjudicated against him. The IBAHRI calls on Turkey to release Mr Kavala immediately in accordance with the ECtHR judgment and international fair trial standards’.

The ECtHR has ruled that there was no evidence to raise reasonable suspicion for the charge of overthrowing the government and other charges related to the attempted 2016 coup; that the detention constituted abuse of power for political reasons; and that Mr Kavala should be released immediately. In Kavala v Turkey the ECtHR found that his trial was unfair and that lengthy pre-trial detention violated his right to liberty and security under Article 5(1) and 5(4) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Following the merger of his case with that of the Çarşı trial (alongside 51 other defendants), Mr Kavala’s case has been postponed four times, with the most recent decision on 8 October extending his detention until the next hearing on 26 November 2021. This decision jeopardises Turkey’s standing in the Council of Europe and could escalate its legal confrontation with fellow Member States.

In a June 2021 meeting, the Committee of Ministers (CoM), which oversees ECtHR rulings, noted that a charge of espionage was brought against Mr Kavala to circumvent the judgment of the ECtHR and continue his detention without evidence, for political purposes. On 17 September, the CoM stated that it would vote to initiate infringement proceedings under Article 46(4) of the ECHR against Turkey at its next meeting in November if Mr Kavala has not been released from prison by that time. Infringement proceedings, if initiated, could lead to the suspension of Turkey’s voting rights or membership from the Council of Europe.

IBAHRI Co-chair and Immediate Past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr Jur hc commented: ‘The IBAHRI calls for the immediate release of Osman Kavala. His continued detention violates the binding authority of the ECtHR. Turkey’s complex legal circumvention of fair trial standards, through arbitrary and renewed charges, shifting court jurisdiction, and the merging of cases, illustrates the political nature of this case and has a dissuasive effect on the work of human rights defenders. This is undoubtedly the chief ambition of such convoluted deeds. With its persistent non-implementation of ECtHR decisions, Turkey mocks the Court. Compliance with binding judgments, whether at domestic, regional, or international level is fundamental to protecting the rule of law. If Mr Kavala is not released soon, then the Committee of Ministers’ vote to adopt infringement proceedings becomes critical to ensuring that enforcement mechanisms are effectively utilised to protect the rule of law when all other measures have failed’.


Notes to the Editor

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