The case of Osman Kavala, a prominent Turkish philanthropist and activist who has been in prison for almost four years without a conviction, has drawn criticism from human rights groups and some European countries but also exposed the silence and inaction of many others.
Kavala is accused of financing the 2013 Gezi Park protests and involvement in the 2016 coup attempt, charges that he denies and that have been dismissed by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) as politically motivated and lacking evidence.
In December 2019, the ECHR ordered Turkey to release Kavala immediately and pay him compensation for violating his rights. However, Turkey has refused to comply with the ruling, despite being a member of the Council of Europe, the human rights body that oversees the ECHR.
In September 2021, the Council of Europe launched infringement proceedings against Turkey for failing to implement the ECHR judgment, a rare and serious measure that could lead to Turkey’s suspension or expulsion from the organization.
However, many European countries have remained silent or passive on Kavala’s case, despite their professed commitment to human rights and democracy. Only 10 countries, including Germany, France and the US, issued a joint statement in October 2021 urging Turkey to release Kavala and respect the ECHR ruling.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacted angrily to the statement, threatening to expel the ambassadors of the 10 countries and accusing them of interfering in Turkey’s internal affairs.
Human rights groups have condemned Turkey’s defiance of the ECHR ruling and its intimidation of Kavala and his supporters. Amnesty International called Kavala’s case a “devastating blow” for human rights in Turkey and beyond. Human Rights Watch urged Turkey to release Kavala and end its “abusive prosecution”.
Kavala’s case is seen as a test for Europe’s credibility and leverage on human rights issues in Turkey, a key partner on migration, trade and security. The Council of Europe is expected to decide on Turkey’s fate at its next meeting in November 2021.