Turkey’s top appeals court has upheld the life sentence for prominent businessman and human rights activist Osman Kavala, who was convicted of attempting to overthrow the government for his alleged role in the 2013 Gezi Park protests. The court also confirmed the 18-year sentences for four other defendants, while overturning the convictions of three others, according to media reports on Thursday.
The Gezi Park protests were a series of anti-government demonstrations that started in Istanbul over a plan to demolish a park and spread to other cities in Turkey. The protests were violently suppressed by the authorities, resulting in the death of 11 protesters and thousands of injuries.
Kavala, who is the founder of Anadolu Kültür, a cultural organization that promotes peace and dialogue, has been in jail since November 2017. He denies any involvement in the protests and says he was targeted for his civil society activities.
The verdict by the Court of Cassation’s 3rd Criminal Chamber was widely condemned by human rights groups and international organizations as a “monstrous abuse of the justice system” and a “mockery of justice” that exemplifies Turkey’s rule of law and human rights crisis.
The court’s decision also disregarded two binding judgments by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that ordered Kavala’s release and found no evidence to support the charges against him. The ECHR also ruled that Kavala’s detention was aimed at silencing him and other human rights defenders.
In addition, the court ignored an ongoing infringement procedure by the Council of Europe, which oversees the implementation of ECHR judgments, against Turkey over Kavala’s case. The procedure could lead to sanctions against Turkey, including suspension or expulsion from the organization.
The Gezi Park trial is one of several cases against Kavala, who is also accused of involvement in a failed coup attempt in 2016. He faces another life sentence if convicted in that case.