Turkey keeps opposition activist in solitary confinement

Kavala, who was first detained in October 2017 and remanded in pre-trial detention on Nov. 1, 2017, has been behind bars ever since. (AFP/File)
Kavala, who was first detained in October 2017 and remanded in pre-trial detention on Nov. 1, 2017, has been behind bars ever since. (AFP/File)
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Updated 06 February 2021

Turkey keeps opposition activist in solitary confinement

Turkey keeps opposition activist in solitary confinement
  • Activists hope that new US administration will lend its weight to campaign

ISTANBUL: An Istanbul court ruled to keep renowned Turkish activist and businessman Osman Kavala behind bars in solitary confinement on Friday in the high-profile second trial of Kavala and Turkish-American academic Henri Barkey. The court also merged the current case with the landmark anti-government Gezi Park protests’ trial.

Amid anti-American conspiracy theories about the involvement of the US in orchestrating the failed coup attempt in 2016, Barkey and Kavala are being tried on espionage charges and accusations of helping the coup attempt. If convicted, they face life sentences.

Speaking in his defense on Friday Kavala said that as the knowledge of the falseness of allegations against him is more and more publicized, each refusal of his bail becomes an increasingly egregious rights violation.

Kavala’s co-defendant Barkey, an American citizen, is being tried in absentia.

Kavala, who was first detained in October 2017 and remanded in pre-trial detention on Nov. 1, 2017, has been behind bars ever since. Although he was acquitted of all charges in the anti-government Gezi Park protests in February 2020, he was then accused of overthrowing the constitutional order and of espionage. Kavala has been behind bars for 1193 days without conviction.

The Kavala case is seen as a way for Turkey’s rulers to threaten other activists that push for Western values such as pluralism, democratization and human rights in the country.

Nine European rights ambassadors from Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden released a joint declaration on Thursday calling for the immediate release of Kavala and expressed “great concern” over the rule of law, human rights and judiciary record in Turkey.

The ambassadors also urged Ankara to implement binding judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

“The continued imprisonment of Osman Kavala in Turkey is politically motivated and goes against judgments of the European Court of Human Rights,” Barbel Kofler, German human rights commissioner, tweeted.

In 2019, ECHR ruled that Kavala’s extended detention had an “ulterior purpose, namely to reduce him to silence as an NGO activist and human rights defender, to dissuade other persons from engaging in such activities and to paralyze civil society in the country” and therefore violated the European Convention on Human Rights that Turkey is bound to respect as a state party.

Turkey insists on defying the rulings of the court not only for Kavala case but also for Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas, who has also been kept behind bars for years.

Speaking at the Parliamentary Assembly on Jan. 25, the Council of Europe’s Secretary-General Marija Pejcinovic Buric warned Ankara that compliance with the ECHR ruling on the Kavala case is not “a kind request,” but rather “a binding legal requirement.”

Although the case of Kavala and Barkey has not been prioritized in the bilateral agenda of Ankara and the Biden administration, the criminal proceedings against an American citizen might draw US engagement about improving the rule of law with its strategic partners, experts note.

Merve Tahiroglu, Turkey program coordinator at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), said Biden took a welcome U-turn from Trump’s brazen embrace of global strongmen and has begun to follow a foreign policy that emphasizes democracy and human rights.

“Already in a few weeks in office, his administration has been more outspoken on Erdogan’s repression in Turkey than his predecessors. I think they are watching this case very closely as well,” she told Arab News.

According to Tahiroglu, Kavala’s unjust prosecution singularly reflects the complete erosion of the rule of law, the repression of Turkish civil society, and the weaponization of anti-Western conspiracy theories against government critics.

During a speech on Feb. 5, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan targeted Kavala’s wife, Ayse Bugra. Bugra is a well-known academic who teaches at Istanbul’s prestigious Bogazici University, which became a scene of protests from academics and students for more than a month after the appointment of a political figure — and a loyalist to Erdogan — as the new rector.

“The wife of Osman Kavala, the person who is the representative of Soros in this country, is a person who is among these provocateurs at Bogazici University,” Erdogan said, following similar statements he gave in the past by accusing Kavala of being the agent of US financier George Soros.

Kavala turned to the Constitutional Court last year, saying his illicit detention violated his right to liberty and security. The court ruled on Dec. 29 that his detention was not a violation.

“Last year, the judges who ordered the acquittal of the Gezi trial defendants, including Kavala, were quickly put under investigation. The latest comments by President Erdogan represent another proof that this is a politically motivated prosecution,” said Amnesty International’s Turkey campaigner, Milena Buyum.

Kavala’s next trial will be held on May 21. The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers will resume its examination of Kavala’s case in March 2021.

According to Buyum, the court ruling on Friday confirmed once again that the continuous calls of ECHR and its criticisms about political motivations behind the arrest were real.

“It is not a trial; it is a direct punishment. There is no single evidence that Kavala tried to overthrow the constitutional order,” she said.

ECHR found that article 18 of the European Convention of Human Rights was violated through Kavala’s arrest. Article 18 determines the limitation on the use of restrictions on rights.
 


At least 11 migrants drown off Tunisia in shipwreck

At least 11 migrants drown off Tunisia in shipwreck
Updated 9 sec ago

At least 11 migrants drown off Tunisia in shipwreck

At least 11 migrants drown off Tunisia in shipwreck
TUNIS: At least 11 migrants drowned in a shipwreck off Tunisia as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, while 21 others were rescued by the coast guard, the army spokesman said on Friday.
He added the coast guard had recovered five bodies, while the search was still under way for six more drowned.

Syria Kurds hunt down Daesh militants after prison attack

Syria Kurds hunt down Daesh militants after prison attack
Updated 8 min 57 sec ago

Syria Kurds hunt down Daesh militants after prison attack

Syria Kurds hunt down Daesh militants after prison attack
  • The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said five Daesh prisoners managed to break out
  • The Syrian Democratic Forces said arrested two Daesh fighters that tried to escape from the Ghwayran prison
BEIRUT: Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria on Friday killed 16 Daesh group fighters after their attack on a Kurdish-run prison housing fellow militants, Al-Arabiya TV reported.
The Syrian Democratic Forces further announced the death of 18 of its soldiers in the attack.
The rare attack on Ghwayran prison in Hassakeh province on Thursday saw the militia detonate a car bomb near the jail and attack Kurdish forces guarding the facility in an attempt to free some of the group’s members, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said “five IS prisoners managed to break out,” but it remains unclear whether they have since been killed or recaptured.
The US-led coalition battling Daesh said “SDF casualties ensued during the attack,” but it did not disclose how many.
The assault triggered clashes between the militants and US-backed SDF forces around the prison that continued into Friday amid heightened security measures, the Observatory said.
“Clashes are ongoing between IS fighters and (Kurdish) military forces in the area,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, describing it as one of the largest such attacks by Daesh since its proto-state was declared defeated in 2019.
The SDF, which oversees the jail, said on Friday that it “arrested two IS fighters that tried to escape from the Ghwayran prison” as part of combing operations following the attack.
The militants were captured in the vicinity of the jail, it said.
It said Daesh fighters that carried out the attack were hiding in civilian homes in the neighborhood of Al-Zuhoor near the jail.
“Exceptional security measures in the vicinity of the prison and surrounding neighborhoods are ongoing,” it said in a statement on Friday morning.
Daesh fighters “are using civilians in the Al-Zuhoor neighborhood and areas north of the prison as human shields,” it said, adding that the militia had killed some civilians in the area.
“Our forces and the relevant security services are moving with great precision and sensitivity to contain these incident.”

Ghwayran is one of the largest facilities housing Daesh fighters in a semi-autonomous region controlled by Kurdish authorities in northeast Syria.
According to Kurdish authorities, more than 50 nationalities are represented in a number of Kurdish-run prisons where more than 12,000 Daesh suspects are now held.
From France to Tunisia, many of the Daesh prisoners’ countries of origins have been reluctant to repatriate them, fearing a public backlash at home.
Daesh “remains an existential threat in Syria and cannot be allowed to regenerate,” the coalition said in a statement after Thursday’s attack.
“Coalition forces will continue to defend against and deter hostile activities against ourselves and our partners.”
The extremist group’s self-declared caliphate, established from 2014, once stretched across vast parts of Syria and Iraq and administered millions of inhabitants.
A long and deadly military fightback led by Syrian and Iraqi forces with backing from the United States and other powers eventually defeated the Daesh proto-state in March 2019.
The remnants of the group mostly went back to their desert hideouts from which they continue to attack Syrian government and allied forces.
Earlier this month, Daesh fighters shot dead an aid worker with the Kurdish Red Crescent at the Al-Hol camp for displaced people.
Last week, a militant attack near Syria’s border with Iraq killed five Syrian pro-regime fighters and wounded 14 others, according to the Observatory.

Gargash: UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against Houthis

Gargash: UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against Houthis
Updated 32 min 10 sec ago

Gargash: UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against Houthis

Gargash: UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against Houthis

LONDON: The UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against the acts of the Houthi militia, diplomatic adviser to the UAE President Anwar Gargash said on Friday.

The UAE has the legal and moral right to defend its lands and residents, he said in a statement published by Al Arabiya. 

The Houthi militia rejected all calls for a ceasefire, and their attack on the UAE Rwabee ship prove their rejection of a political solution, the adviser said. 

The Houthis have turned the port of Hodeidah into a port for maritime piracy, he claimed, and are using it to finance the war.

The UAE will do everything necessary to prevent the danger of terrorist acts on its soil, he said.

Houthi rebels claimed credit for a cross-border drone strike on Monday that killed three migrant workers in the UAE. This lead to international condemnation. 

US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that he is considering re-designating Yemen’s Houthi militia as an international terrorist organization after the attack.


Iraq: Daesh gunmen shoot dead 11 soldiers in ‘brazen attack’

Iraq: Daesh gunmen shoot dead 11 soldiers in ‘brazen attack’
Updated 21 January 2022

Iraq: Daesh gunmen shoot dead 11 soldiers in ‘brazen attack’

Iraq: Daesh gunmen shoot dead 11 soldiers in ‘brazen attack’
  • The brazen attack was one of the deadliest targeting the Iraqi military in recent months

BAGHDAD: Daesh gunmen attacked an army barracks in a mountainous area north of Baghdad on Thursday, killing 11 soldiers as they slept, Iraqi security officials said.
The officials said the attack occurred in the Al-Azim district, an open area north of of Baqouba in Diyala province. The circumstances of the attack were not immediately clear, but two officials who spoke to The Associated Press said Daesh group militants broke into the barracks at 3 a.m. local time and shot dead the soldiers.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren’t authorized to issue official statements.
The brazen attack more than 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of the capital Baghdad was one of the deadliest targeting the Iraqi military in recent months.


Israeli general turned lawmaker emerges as settler critic

Israeli general turned lawmaker emerges as settler critic
Updated 21 January 2022

Israeli general turned lawmaker emerges as settler critic

Israeli general turned lawmaker emerges as settler critic

JERUSALEM: Retired general Yair Golan spent a significant part of his military career serving in the occupied West Bank, protecting Jewish settlements. Today, he is one of their most vocal critics.
Golan, a former deputy military chief, is now a legislator with the dovish Meretz party, where he has repeatedly spoken out against settler violence against Palestinians.
His comments, highlighted by his recent description of violent settlers as “subhuman,” have rattled Israel’s delicate governing coalition, and his opponents have labeled him a radical. He joins a cadre of former security personnel who, after not speaking up while in uniform and positions of influence, have in retirement sounded the alarm over Israel’s five-decade-long military rule of the Palestinians.
“You can’t have a free and democratic state so long as we are controlling people who don’t want to be controlled by us,” Golan told The Associated Press in an interview at his office in the Knesset this week. “What kind of democracy are we building here long term?”
Golan has emerged as a rare critical voice in a society where the occupation is largely an accepted fact and where settlers have successfully pushed their narrative through their proximity to the levers of power. Most members of Israel’s parliament belong to the pro-settlement right wing.
Golan, 59, had a long military career, being wounded in action in Lebanon and filling key positions as head of the country’s northern command and as commander of the West Bank, among others.
Along the way, he gained a reputation as a maverick for decisions that sometimes landed him in hot water. At one point, he reached an unauthorized deal to remove some settlers from the West Bank city of Hebron. He was reprimanded and a promotion was delayed after he permitted the use of Palestinian non-combatants as human shields during arrest raids, a tactic the country’s Supreme Court banned.
At the same time, he was credited with permitting thousands of Syrians wounded in their country’s civil war to enter Israel for medical treatment.
As the deputy military chief, he was passed over for the top job after comparing what he saw as fascistic trends in modern-day Israel to Nazi Germany. He believes the speech cost him the position.
A few years after retirement, he was elected to parliament and eventually joined Meretz, a party that supports Palestinian statehood and is part of the current coalition headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
Meretz has been one of the few parties to make ending Israel’s occupation a top priority. But since joining the coalition, which has agreed to focus on less divisive issues to maintain its stability, most of its members have appeared to tone down their criticism.
Golan has not. Earlier this month, he caused a firestorm when he lashed out against settlers who vandalized graves in the Palestinian West Bank village of Burqa.
“These are not people, these are subhumans,” Golan told the Knesset Channel. “They must not be given any backing.”
His remarks angered Bennett, a former settler leader, and sparked criticism from others within the coalition.
Golan acknowledged his choice of words was flawed but said he stands by the spirit of his remarks.
“Is the problem the expression that I used or is the problem those same people who go up to Burqa, smash graves, damage property and assault innocent Palestinians?” he said.
Such statements have turned him into a poster boy for what far-right nationalists describe as dangerous forces in the coalition challenging Israel’s role in the West Bank. The Palestinians seek the area, captured by Israel in 1967, as the heartland of a future state.
Some on Israel’s dovish left also have been hesitant to embrace Golan, who continues to defend the army’s actions in the West Bank.
Golan always saw his duty in the territory as primarily combatting Palestinian militants, and he continues to believe that most settlers are law-abiding citizens. The international community overwhelmingly considers all settlements illegal or illegitimate, and the Palestinians and many left-wing Israelis see the military as an enforcer of an unjust occupation.
Breaking the Silence, a whistleblower group for former Israeli soldiers who oppose policies in the West Bank, called for action, not just words, against settler violence.
“Yair Golan knows full well what settler violence looks like and what our violent control over the Palestinian people looks like. That’s why his criticism is valuable, but it’s not enough,” the group said in a statement.
Golan said he always saw Israeli control over Palestinian territories as temporary. He said separating from the Palestinians is the only way to keep Israel a democratic state with a Jewish majority.
In 2006, Golan commanded the violent evacuation of the Amona settlement in the West Bank, which was built on privately owned Palestinian land.
“I can’t come to terms with the idea that someone Jewish who holds Jewish values supports the theft of someone else’s lands,” he said.
In recent months, as violence between settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank has ticked up, videos have emerged of soldiers standing by as settlers rampage. Golan said he never would have allowed such a thing under his command.
“These people don’t accept the essence of Israel and abide by the law only when it’s convenient for them,” he said.
His comments about settlers aren’t the first to rankle the establishment. In a 2016 speech marking Israel’s Holocaust memorial day, Golan, then deputy military chief, said he was witnessing “nauseating processes” in Israeli society that reminded him of the fascism of Nazi-era Germany.
He said the remarks were sparked by the fatal shooting of a subdued Palestinian attacker by a soldier. The soldier was embraced by nationalist politicians, including then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Golan said the shooting was nothing short of an execution.
Next to his desk, Golan keeps a photo of Netanyahu arriving for his corruption trial at a Jerusalem courthouse, surrounded by his Likud Party supporters as he rants against police and prosecutors.
Golan said the image is a reminder of what he is fighting against — and for.
“I served the country in uniform for so many years, I really gave it my life,” Golan said. Pointing to the photo, he said: “I didn’t endanger my life countless times for these people.”