December 18, 2020
By Ali Kucukgocmen
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala, who has been held in jail for three years without conviction, denied charges of involvement in a 2016 attempted coup at the start of a new trial on Friday.
Ankara’s Western allies have raised concerns about Kavala’s detention and the European Court of Human Rights has said his detention serves to silence him. After President Tayyip Erdogan last month promised judicial reforms, rights activists and opposition politicians redoubled calls for his release.
Immediately after he was acquitted in February of charges related to nationwide protests in 2013, Kavala was arrested again – on charges related to the failed 2016 coup.
“None of the charges in this indictment are based on any facts, evidence or objective evaluation of a concrete criminal act,” Kavala, 63, told a crowded Istanbul courtroom by video link from prison.
The allegations “are in stark contrast to my world view, ethical values and the goals of the projects carried out by the civil society organizations under my supervision,” he said.
His jail time was “mental torture,” he said as his wife, opposition politicians, foreign diplomats and rights groups listened among a crowd which spilled out into the hallway.
Critics say the detention points to political pressure on Turkey’s judiciary, which they say has been bent to punish thousands of the government’s perceived opponents after the failed coup.
Erdogan’s reform pledges have prompted speculation that Kavala and others may be released, but the president said last month he could never defend the philanthropist and called him the sponsor of the Gezi Park protests in 2013 – despite courts clearing him of that accusation.
In the new indictment, Kavala is accused of collaborating with Henri Barkey, a prominent Turkey scholar in the United States. The indictment accuses Barkey of links to the network of U.S.-based Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, which Ankara accuses of orchestrating the coup.
Gulen denies involvement in the coup attempt.
Kavala and Barkey are charged with attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, for which a conviction carries a life sentence without parole, and with espionage, which could lead to 20 years in jail.
Barkey has rejected the charges as a “complete fabrication”.
The indictment says Kavala and Barkey spoke by phone on Oct. 8, 2016, nearly three months after the July 15 failed coup. It says that many times between 2013 and 2016, signals on Barkey and Kavala’s phones came from the same area and that they met at an Istanbul restaurant on July 18, 2016.
Barkey told Reuters by email in October that the two ran into each other at the restaurant and chatted briefly. He said their phones could have been in the same area of a crowded city at other times without them meeting.
Deniz Tolga Aytore, Kavala’s lawyer, told the court the indictment was unlawful and political.
“For 3-1/2 years they have sought a crime for Osman Kavala” while keeping him in jail, he said.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Giles Elgood and Timothy Heritage)
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