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Top Europe court calls for immediate release of Turkish philanthropist

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Strasbourg (France) (AFP)

Europe's top rights court on Tuesday urged Turkey to release businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, ruling his rights had been violated by more than two years in detention and rubbishing the charges against him.

Kavala, who funded civil society projects across the country and notably pushed for reconciliation between Turkey and its neighbour Armenia, was detained in 2017 on charges of seeking to overthrow the government.

His supporters have denounced the charges as politically motivated and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has personally attacked Kavala, calling him the agent in Turkey of US financier George Soros.

The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that Turkey was unable to demonstrate that Kavala's "initial and continued pre-trial detention had been justified by reasonable suspicions based on an objective assessment of the acts attributed to him."

Turkey must now "take every measure to put an end to the applicant's detention and to secure his immediate release," the court concluded.

Kavala, who remains in detention and went on trial in June, had been charged with attempting to overthrow the government and the constitution through involvement in 2013 anti-Erdogan protests and the 2016 failed coup.

He denies the accusations.

- 'Reducing him to silence' -

In a damning verdict, the ECHR said that his detention was "based not only on acts that could not be reasonably considered as behaviour criminalised under domestic law" but also on acts whose exercise was guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.

"In the absence of facts, information or evidence showing that Mr Kavala had been involved in criminal activity, he could not reasonably be suspected of having attempted to overthrow the government by force or violence," it said.

The court also found that the violations in the case "pursued an ulterior purpose... namely that of reducing Mr Kavala, and with him all human-rights defenders, to silence."

Erdogan in 2018 had described Kavala as the "representative in Turkey" of Soros and accused Kavala of "using his means to support those trying to tear up this country".

A respected figure in intellectual circles, Kavala is chairman of the Anatolian Culture Foundation, which seeks to bridge ethnic and regional divides through art and culture.

The rulings of the ECHR, which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights, of which Turkey is a signatory, are binding on all member states of the Council of Europe.

However a string of ECHR rulings unfavourable to Ankara have increased tensions between Turkey and the Council of Europe.

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