ANKARA: Turkey is targeting a cultural organization founded by the jailed activist and philanthropist Osman Kavala, who has been behind bars for more than three years without a conviction.
The Trade Ministry filed a lawsuit demanding the dissolution of Anadolu Kultur, an Istanbul-based organization set up by Kavala in 2002 for cross-cultural understanding, claiming that it was originally registered as a commercial enterprise but was operating as a non-profit organization.
Anadolu Kultur is charged with violating Article 210 of the Turkish Commercial Code regarding corporations and ministry personnel may audit the relevant company accordingly.
US President Joe Biden’s administration has urged Turkey to release Kavala without delay and to respect a 2019 ruling from the European Court of Human Rights.
The ministry's action is seen as the “continuation of unlawfulness” against Kavala because it is the first of its kind in Turkey's history.
“Our company has carried out all its operations legally and transparently since its establishment in 2002,” Anadolu Kultur said in an official statement. “No crime was detected by Turkey’s Financial Crimes Investigation Unit and the ministry’s investigations.”
Anadolu Kultur has undertaken projects in the arts, democracy, civil society and culture to strengthen Turkey’s minority groups and help marginalized segments of Turkish society, making the organization a target in pro-government circles.
Pro-government newspapers accuse Kavala of using his foundation to evade monitoring by authorities and channeling foreign donations from entities linked to billionaire philanthropist George Soros. Soros’ Open Society Foundation ceased its Turkish operations in late 2018.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called Kavala “a representative of Soros” – an accusation used to demonize members of civil society in Turkey.
Asena Gunal, general director of Anadolu Kultur, said the lawsuit had been ongoing since last year and explained why the organization had not previously publicized it.
“Following the latest attacks by pro-government newspapers that tried to demonize Anadolu Kultur, we wanted to inform the public about the process,” she told Arab News. “There are plenty of companies in Turkey that do not get profits from their business activities. They can even lose money, but they are not obliged to close down. We examined the whole history of business activities and closure requests in Turkey. This one is unprecedented. It is so sad that the law is being instrumentalized in such a way for a politically motivated agenda.”
The first trial was held on Dec. 3, 2020, without any media coverage. The next trial will be held on April 15, while the closure process can take years if the government does not appoint a trustee immediately or decide on the company’s closure quickly.
Kavala, who is a respected figure in Turkish and European civil society circles, was arrested at Istanbul’s Atatürk airport on Oct. 19, 2017, after returning from a meeting with the Goethe Institut in the southeastern city of Gaziantep.
Earlier this month a Turkish court rejected his request for release on espionage charges.