European Body to Begin Disciplinary Process Against Turkey Over Philanthropist's Imprisonment

The case of philanthropist Osman Kavala, charged with funding anti-government protests and backing the 2016 coup attempt, is driving an ever-deepening wedge between Turkey and the EU

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Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala, jailed since 2017 on a charges of seeking to overthrow the government.
Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala, jailed since 2017 on a charges of seeking to overthrow the government.Credit: Anadolu Culture Center / Handout via Reuters

Europe’s democracy and human rights-promoting body said Friday that it is initiating a rare disciplinary process against Turkey after it failed to comply with a court's ruling to release jailed businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala.

Last week, a court in Istanbul extended Kavala’s imprisonment, defying the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that the businessmen was unjustly jailed.

The Council of Europe warned Turkey in September that it would begin “infringement” proceedings unless Kavala was freed before its meeting this week. The lengthy process could lead to the suspension of Turkey’s voting rights or membership in the 47-nation human rights body.

The council said in a statement that its Committee of Ministers concluded that by failing to free Kavala, "Turkey is refusing to abide by the court’s final judgment in this case.”

It added that the committee had notified Turkey of its intention to ask the court whether Ankara had failed to fulfil its obligation to implement its judgement and had also asked Turkey to submit its view of the issue by January 19.

Turkey’s possible suspension from the Council of Europe would further isolate Ankara, threatening a key link to Europe.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry called on the Council of Europe to respect Turkey's ongoing legal proceedings involving Kavala and to “avoid taking further steps, which would amount to interference in the independent judiciary.”

Kavala has been incarcerated for more than four years without having been convicted of a crime, prompting claims of political persecution against the businessman amid international criticism of the Erdoğan government for its crackdown on opponents.

His case caused a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and 10 Western countries, including the United States, France and Germany, after they called for his release.

The European court, whose decisions are binding on Council of Europe members, demanded Kavala’s release two years ago pending trial, saying his imprisonment aimed to silence him and was not supported by evidence of an offense.

Turkey insists he is being held based on rulings of its courts.

Kavala, 64, is accused of funding nationwide anti-government protests in 2013 and helping orchestrate a coup attempt three years later. He denies the charges, which carry a life sentence without the chance of parole.

Kavala was acquitted in February 2020 of charges in connection with 2013’s Gezi protests, but the ruling was overturned and linked to charges relating to the coup attempt.

Kavala is known for his support of the arts and his funding of projects promoting cultural diversity and minority rights. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has accused him of being the “Turkish leg” of billionaire U.S. philanthropist George Soros, whom Erdoğan alleges has been behind insurrections in many countries.

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