Turkey sentences Osman Kavala, the “red millionaire”, to life in prison

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Commotion in the packed courtroom in Istanbul where Osman Kavala was sentenced this Monday afternoon, after four and a half years in pretrial detention. The magistrates have sentenced the businessman and cultural and political activist to life imprisonment, according to them, for financing subversion against the state.

Kavala was initially accused of supporting the 2013 mass protests at Gezi Park. After being exonerated in 2020 due to lack of evidence, in a matter of hours he was charged in an even more serious case, that of the 2016 coup attempt. Although the European Court of Human Rights ordered Turkey to release him, the request has been ignored, so the Council of Europe will have to initiate proceedings against Ankara.

Along with Kavala, seven investigated in the same case have been sentenced to 18 years, from liberal professions and intellectuals, who until now were on provisional release and who must enter prison. As in the Kavala case, the magistrates have given credence to the prosecutor’s charges: “Attempt to overthrow the government using violence.” That is, sedition.

Disbelief in Europe

Sentenced for attempting to violently subvert the government

The court, however, has acquitted Kavala of the espionage charge, for lack of evidence. The latter, gave up months ago to attend the hearings of his trial, due to lack of confidence in the impartiality of the magistrates. Last week, when the case was seen for sentencing, he appeared by videoconference from Silivri prison, on the outskirts of Istanbul. “No one will be able to give me back these four and a half years. I am only compensated for having highlighted the failures of the Turkish justice system.”

Osman Kavala, a wealthy heir born in Paris 64 years ago, has devoted much of his time and fortune in recent decades to socio-cultural and socio-political initiatives, with special emphasis on the most thorny issues, such as the Kurdish question and the Armenian question. He also converted the huge family tobacco warehouse, in the center of Istanbul, into Depo, a kind of privately run Center d’Arts Santa Mònica.

The 2013 Gezi Park rallies practically overlapped with those in Cairo that served as a prelude to General Al Sisi’s coup and the imprisonment of the Islamist government of Mohamed Mursi, close to the Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP). . A year later the Maidan broke out in Kyiv.

Consternation among those gathered at the exit of the court before the harsh sentence against the political and cultural activist Osman Kavala, this Monday afternoon in Istanbul

OZAN ​​KOSE / AFP

Osman Kavala denies having financed the Istanbul rallies and says that he only gave young people pasta and masks to protect themselves from tear gas. Unfortunately for Kavala, the Turkish government’s fears that a coup plan was underway were confirmed in 2016.

Kavala’s coincidence on those dates with one of the Turkish-American defendants – now fugitives – whom Ankara considers part of the civilian plot of the coup has harmed him. He speaks of “pure causality, in a restaurant”.

The European institutions have been very much on top of the Kavala case and it does not seem that it has benefited them. Last year, when ten Western ambassadors publicly took a position on the case, while it was sub iudice, the Turkish president threatened them with expulsion from the country, for interference, so they chose to withdraw discreetly.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has referred to Kavala as “George Soros’s man in Turkey” (the Hungarian-born American billionaire equally hated by Viktor Orban), increasing pressure on the Turkish justice system, itself subject to huge purges since 2016, for the infiltration of the brotherhood of the fugitive Fethullah Gülen.

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