Turkish civil society leaders on trial over 2013 protests

Osman Kavala rejected the “irrational claims which lack evidence” in his opening statement. (
Updated 24 June 2019

Turkish civil society leaders on trial over 2013 protests

  • The 657-page indictment seeks to paint the protests as a foreign-directed conspiracy with links to the Arab Spring
  • There has been a renewed crackdown on dissidents since a coup attempt in 2016

SILIVRI, Turkey: Sixteen leading Turkish civil society leaders went on trial Monday, accused of seeking to overthrow the government during the “Gezi Park” protests of 2013 — charges dubbed an absurd sham by critics.
The group includes renowned businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, whose detention since November 2017 has made him a symbol of what his supporters say is a crackdown on civil society.
Kavala rejected the “irrational claims which lack evidence” in his opening statement, shortly after the trial began under high security in the prison and court complex of Silivri on the outskirts of Istanbul.
He is accused of orchestrating and financing the protests which began over government plans to build over Gezi Park, one of the few green spaces left in Istanbul.
The rallies snowballed into a nationwide movement that marked the first serious challenge to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s brand of Islamic conservatism and grandiose development projects.
The 657-page indictment seeks to paint the protests as a foreign-directed conspiracy with links to the Arab Spring, which, ironically, the Turkish government supported.
“None of these actions were coincidental... they were supported from the outside as an operation to bring the Turkish Republic to its knees,” the indictment says.
Amnesty International’s Andrew Gardner said the trial “speaks volumes about the deeply flawed judiciary that has allowed this political witch-hunt to take place.
“It is absurdly attempting to portray routine civil society activities as crimes,” he said.
“The idea that Osman Kavala led the conspiracy is utterly outlandish and unsupported by any credible evidence,” Emma Sinclair-Webb, the Turkey director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), told AFP.
One of the allegations is the claim that a map on Kavala’s phone showing bee species actually depicted his plans to redraw Turkey’s borders.
There has been a renewed crackdown on dissidents since a coup attempt in 2016, blamed by the government on US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, with thousands arrested and tens of thousands sacked from public sector, media and military jobs.
A respected figure in intellectual circles, Kavala is chairman of the Anatolian Culture Foundation, which seeks to bridge ethnic and regional divides through art, including with neighboring Armenia, with which Turkey has no diplomatic ties.
“I was involved in projects contributing to peace and reconciliation. There is not a single piece of evidence or proof in the indictment that I prepared the ground for a military coup,” Kavala told the court.
Think tank researcher Yigit Aksakoglu was also in pre-trial detention — since November — while six of the rest are being tried in absentia after fleeing Turkey, including actor Memet Ali Alabora and dissident journalist Can Dundar.
The case against Alabora focuses on his appearance in a play featuring a revolt against the ruler of a fictional country.
Others, including architect Mucella Yapici, have already been tried and acquitted for their role in the Gezi Park protests in 2015.
“I am on trial for the second time on the same charges. Peaceful protests cannot be banned. They are a right,” Yapici told the court on Monday.
Erdogan has linked Kavala to US billionaire George Soros, whose efforts to promote democracy around the world have made him a target for several authoritarian leaders.
Last year, Erdogan said Kavala was the representative in Turkey of the “famous Hungarian Jew Soros” whom he accused of trying to “divide and tear up nations.”
Soros’s Open Society Foundation, which ceased activities in Turkey last year, called Monday’s trial a “political sham.”
“At some earlier stage in Turkey’s descent into authoritarian rule, one might have described this trial as a test of judicial independence... but such exams have already been held, and the failing grades were handed down long ago,” wrote Freedom House, a US-based rights group, this week.
“The point of the coming show trial is quite simply to intimidate Turkish citizens and deter them from exercising their rights,” it added.
The hearing will continue on Tuesday.


Egypt hosts talks over Libyan reconciliation process

Updated 24 min 6 sec ago

Egypt hosts talks over Libyan reconciliation process

  • The Red Sea coast city of Hurghada has been playing host to discussions over stabilizing a cease-fire in the country

CAIRO: Talks aimed at paving the way for a political and economic solution to the conflict in Libya have been taking place in Egypt.

The Red Sea coast city of Hurghada has been playing host to discussions over stabilizing a cease-fire in the country, securing oil fields and oil installations, and establishing government institutions and infrastructure.

Officials taking part in the security meeting are working to set up military committees in the east and west of Libya with a view to them forming a unified force for the country and reaching a comprehensive settlement based on the outcomes of January’s Berlin Conference and the resulting Cairo Declaration.

Political adviser to the speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives, Fathi Al-Marimi, said all Libyan forces were currently gearing up for a meeting in Geneva next month with talks on the selection of a new presidential council — which would consist of a president, two deputies, a prime minister and two deputies representing the regions of Cyrenaica, Fezzan, and Tripoli — and economic, military, and security issues going forward.

During the first half of October, Cairo will host the largest conference for the Libyan national reconciliation process with the participation of officials, tribal elders, and other representatives, to map out a comprehensive peace plan.

Hassan Al-Mabrouk, a member of the preparatory committee for the reconciliation conference, said: “The committee contacted many leaders from various Libyan regions, including Misrata, Tripoli, and all regions of the west, south, and east, and they expressed their willingness to participate in the reconciliation conference in Cairo in October.”

He added that the committee urged Libyan authorities, the international community, and all relevant organizations to help solve the Libyan crisis and preserve the unity and sovereignty of the country without external interference. This would include the removal of mercenaries and the disbanding of militias.

National reconciliation could only be achieved through the immediate release of prisoners and detainees, Al-Mabrouk said, along with the implementation and generalization of a general amnesty law issued by the Libyan Parliament, and the return of displaced people.

He added that social leaders, scholars, and imams had a religious and social duty to succeed in bringing the nation together in peace and that 10 years of war, blood, destruction, waste of wealth and hatred among Libyans should provide sufficient food for thought.

“Holding the conference before the Geneva meeting will contribute to creating an atmosphere for the political transition by representing all groups in the next stage,” he said.