Expression Interrupted

Journalists and academics bear the brunt of the massive crackdown on freedom of expression in Turkey. Scores of them are currently subject to criminal investigations or behind bars. This website is dedicated to tracking the legal process against them.

Osman Kavala re-arrested after acquittal in Gezi Trial

Osman Kavala re-arrested after acquittal in Gezi Trial

Osman Kavala was sent back to prison, this time as part of an investigation into coup attempt of 2016


Businessman Osman Kavala was acquitted in the Gezi Park trial, only to be re-arrested and sent back to prison on new charges as part of a separate investigation into the coup attempt of 15 July 2016.

Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued a warrant for Kavala’s arrest late on 18 February 2020, just hours after a court ruled for his acquittal of all charges in the Gezi Park trial and ruled his release.

The news of new arrest warrant came as a crowd of supporters had gathered outside the Silivri Prison, waiting for Kavala’s release after more than two years in pre-trial detention following the verdict handed earlier in the day by the Istanbul 30th High Criminal Court.

In a statement, the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office said it had made a submission to the Istanbul 30th High Criminal Court objecting to the acquittal verdict. It said it also issued the warrant for Kavala’s arrest on the charge of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” in connection with a separate investigation into the coup attempt of 15 July 2016.

Kavala was re-arrested upon his release from Silivri Prison as per the arrest warrant and taken to the Istanbul police headquarters. On 19 February, a criminal judgeship of peace ordered his imprisonment pending trial on the charge of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order,” following which he was taken back to Silivri Prison.

The decision said Kavala’s imprisonment was due to severity of the charge and suspicion of flight following his release in the Gezi Park trial. The judgeship argued that there was “strong suspicion” that Kavala might have been involved in planning the coup attempt based on records of communication indicating possible contact between him and Henri J. Barkey, an Istanbul-born US professor of international relations and a former State Department official whom the judgeship referred to as an “organizer of the coup attempt.”

Gezi Trial verdict 

Kavala, along with 15 others, was on trial on the charge of “attempting to overthrow the government” for his alleged role in the Gezi Park protests of 2013. He has been imprisoned since November 2017.

In a widely unexpected decision, the Istanbul 30th High Criminal Court had ruled earlier in the day to acquit Kavala and eight other defendants who were present during the trial process of all charges. The court also ruled for the release of Kavala, the only defendant who was still in prison as part of the trial. Case files of seven defendants who are no longer in Turkey were separated.

In December, the European Court of Human Rights ruled for Kavala’s release but the Istanbul 30th High Criminal Court, which oversees the trial, refused to end his detention in the two hearings held since the European court’s ruling.

In its verdict on 18 February 2020, the court ruled to clear nine defendants of all charges on the ground of lack of evidence indicating that they had committed the alleged criminal activities. This was the sixth hearing in the case, since the trial started in June 2019.

Prior to the Tuesday’s hearing, the prosecutor had submitted his final opinion to the court, demanding aggravated life sentences for Osman Kavala, architect Mücella Yapıcı and civil society professional Yiğit Aksakoğlu, who spent over seven months behind bars before being released at the end of the first hearing in June 2019, for “attempting to overthrow the government” over their alleged roles in Gezi protests.

In his final opinion on the case, the prosecutor asked the court to convict film producer Çiğdem Mater, Anadolu Kültür Foundation Executive Board member Hakan Altınay, advertiser and film-maker Mine Özerden, lawyer Can Atalay, city planner Tayfun Kahraman and Anadolu Kültür’s Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi of “assisting the commission of the alleged offense” pursuant to Article 39 of the Turkish Criminal Code, which is punishable by 15 to 20 years in prison.

The prosecutor requested case files of seven defendants, including journalist Can Dündar and actor Memet Ali Alabora, to be separated as they were not present to give their statements in response to the indictment.

Eventful hearing

The acquittal decision was unexpected as defendants and defense lawyers were concerned that the court is rushing to conclude the case and convict the defendants to evade compliance with the European Court of Human Rights ruling in Kavala’s application, since the European court ruling would not be applicable to his detention had he been convicted.

At the start of the hearing, defense lawyers made several requests to the court to expand the investigation by summoning witnesses and collect and examine evidence disproving the accusations against their clients.

Aksakoğlu’s lawyer Serdar Laçin said his client’s phone had been seized when he had been arrested but was yet to be examined for possible proof for criminal activity. “Prosecutor completed his final opinion on the case even without waiting to include results of this examination,” he said.

The court, however, summarily rejected all requests from lawyers saying they would not contribute to the trial process.

The defendants then made short statements, explaining that they were not ready to make their final defense statements in response to the prosecutor’s opinion submitted only days before the hearing and insisting that their lawyers’ requests for expansion of the investigation should be met.

Kavala rejected the indictment once again, saying it fails to establish links between facts and the crimes attributed to the defendants and claims without evidence that people who participated in the Gezi protests were part of a conspiracy against the government. He also said the court was in an attempt to delay compliance with the European Court of Human Rights decision in his application.

Architect Mücella Yapıcı also raised the same concerns, saying she will make a short statement as the court panel “seemed to be in a hurry” to conclude the case. She again defended the Gezi protests as a “source of pride for the society.” “Gezi has no mastermind, no [terrorist] organization. It cannot be put on trial,” she said, drawing applause from the audience in the courtroom.

Following the statements from defendants, lawyers for the Ministry of Treasury and Finance, the Ministry of Interior and the National Police Department briefly addressed the court, saying they requested the panel to convict the defendants in line with the prosecutor’s final opinion.

The court then proceeded to ask Kavala to state his final words – the last procedural step in a criminal trial before the court begins deliberations for the verdict. The court’s move sparked loud protests from defense lawyers and the audience, prompting the presiding judge to order the gendarmerie forces to expel one defense lawyer and the spectators. Lawyer Bahri Belen protested the measure, saying it was unseen even in the infamous and now-defunct State Security Courts. But order was restored in several minutes as most of the spectators and all defense lawyers remained in their seats.

The court panel, which had left the courtroom amid protests, then returned and insisted on hearing the final statements from the defendants. “I request my acquittal because everything is so absurd,” said defendant Mine Özerden. “I hope the court acts a bit more in line with the laws,” said Yapıcı.

Right after the final words, the court announced its verdict in the case without any delay, eliciting cheerful applauds from the audience.