HRW slams Turkey for human rights defender’s life sentence

HRW slams Turkey for human rights defender’s life sentence
Lawyers and opposition lawmakers gather in front of the Justice Palace in support for Osman Kavala. (File: Reuters)
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Updated 27 April 2022

HRW slams Turkey for human rights defender’s life sentence

HRW slams Turkey for human rights defender’s life sentence
  • Rights group urges Europe to take a stand against politically motivated conviction
  • ‘Turkey’s courts operate under instructions from the Erdogan presidency’

LONDON: The conviction of Osman Kavala, a businessman and civil rights activist who has been given a life sentence for his alleged role in mass protests against Turkey’s government in 2013, has been slammed by Human Rights Watch as a “gross violation of human rights.”

Describing the “sham trial” of Kavala and his seven co-defendants, HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth said the convictions were based on “wild assertions and conspiracy theories stood in for anything resembling evidence,” and provide “ample proof that Turkey’s courts operate under instructions from the Erdogan presidency.”

Roth added: “The war in Ukraine should not allow Turkey’s international allies to turn a blind eye to the severe crisis for the rule of law and human rights at home exemplified in this latest verdict and sentences.”

The Istanbul 13th Assize Court sentenced Kavala to life in prison without parole. The seven co-defendants have been sentenced to 18 years in prison on charges of aiding and abetting. 

Lawyers are appealing all of the defendants’ convictions and detentions. The decision to sentence them comes after the European Court of Human Rights found in 2019 that Turkey deployed arrest and detention tactics to achieve political goals, violated Kavala’s rights — including his right to liberty — and acted in bad faith.

HRW said the government had ignored this ruling and “also ignored the call for his release and full restoration of his rights by the Committee of Ministers, which represents the Council of Europe’s 47 member states.” 

It added: “In response, the Committee of Ministers voted on February 2 to begin infringement proceedings against Turkey for noncompliance with the European Court’s ruling, an important move to support human rights protection in Turkey and uphold the international human rights framework.”

HRW said Turkey has used legal subterfuge to avoid the ruling, knocking Kavala’s case into the lower courts.

It called on Turkey’s international partners to hit back against the ruling, saying the EU’s proposed “positive agenda” with Ankara is now “wholly incompatible with Turkey’s failure to release Kavala in line with the European Court’s judgment, and made infinitely worse by the convictions, draconian sentencing, and detention orders for Kavala and his co-defendants.”

HRW added: “The European Commission and EU member states should urgently review their engagement with Turkey and condition the opening of talks on the Customs Union modernization, requested by Ankara; the release of Kavala and any of the others detained; repeal of the Gezi verdict; implementation of judgments from the European Court of Human Rights; and tangible progress on improving Turkey’s human rights record and ensuring the independence of its judiciary.”