Turkish businessman calls for end to 'unlawful' detention

Silivri (Turkey) (AFP) –


Turkish businessman Osman Kavala on Tuesday rejected charges of leading and funding mass government protests in 2013 and called for an end to his "unlawful" detention in his first appearance in court after Europe's top rights body urged Ankara to release him.

Kavala, a leading figure in Turkey's civil society who funded projects across the country, has been in pre-trial detention since November 2017 on charges of seeking to overthrow the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkish prosecutors accuse him of being involved in anti-Erdogan protests in 2013 and the failed coup in 2016.

His hearing and that of 15 other leading figures in civil society started in the vast court and prison complex in Silivri in the outskirts of Istanbul.

Kavala, who appeared in the dock wearing a dark jacket and a white shirt, dismissed the charges as "completely groundless".

"The 657-page indictment... proves I am innocent rather than guilty," he told the court.

Two weeks ago, the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) urged Turkey to "take every measure to put an end" to Kavala's detention and "to secure his immediate release".

In a damning verdict, the ECHR said Kavala was being held "not only on acts that could not be reasonably considered as behaviour criminalised under domestic law" but which were also guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.

"I demand this unlawful and discriminatory practice that placed me in prison for two years come to an end," Kavala told the court.

Critics have denounced the charges as politically motivated and demonstrated how Turkey is cracking down on civil society.

Erdogan has accused Kavala of being a Turkish agent of US financier George Soros.

Diplomats from foreign consulates and observers attended the hearing in a show of solidarity.

Among them was Sergey Lagodinsky, chair of the European Parliament's EU-Turkey Delegation.

He described the decision to hold the hearing on Christmas Eve as "very odd."

"That is why it is even more important to be present!" he said, urging Turkey to implement the European court's ruling.

A respected figure in intellectual circles, Kavala is chairman of the Anatolian Culture Foundation, which promotes human rights through art, including with neighbouring Armenia, with which Turkey has no diplomatic ties.