Court releases Gezi defendant Aksakoglu, Kavala remains in prison

Civil society activist Yigit Aksakoglu, one of the 16 defendants facing trial over the Gezi Park protests in 2013 has been released by an Istanbul court while prominent businessman Osman Kavala’s detention continues, the state-run Anadolu Agency (AA) reported on Tuesday.

The Istanbul 30th Heavy Penal Court on Tuesday ruled for the continuation of Kavala’s detention, while Aksakoglu, who had been in prison since last November, was released pending trial.

Kavala, who has  already spent over 600 days in prison due to Gezi-related charges, made his statement on Monday’s trial, arguing that the claims in the indictment against him “have no factual basis and defy logic.”

The 657-page indictment accuses the 16 defendants of trying to overthrow the government of then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan by way of organizing and financing anti-government demonstrations at Gezi Park in 2013.

The indictment released on February 19, 2019, which also includes charges of damaging property, places of worship and cemeteries, calls for life sentences without parole for the defendants.

Gezi Park protests, which started with a small group of people against the urban development plan for Taksim Gezi Park in Istanbul, quickly spread across Turkey in the summer of 2013.

Erdogan claimed then that the protests were not environmentally motivated but were instead aimed at toppling his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

On Tuesday Can Atalay, a well-known lawyer in cases for protection of environment who faces trial without arrest defined the indictment in his testimony as the “most recent example of efforts to smear one of the most honorable social events in Turkey’s history.”

“This indictment turns Turkey’s long years of social and political life and its criminal procedure into mere means to an end,” he added.

Referring to Erdogan, Atalay said Turkey’s public resources are being destroyed because of one man’s ambition.

“Can you blame us for trying to protect the [Ataturk Cultural Center] AKM [in Taksim]?” the lawyer asked, saying that the 49-year-old building was demolished in 2018.

Stating that voting is not the only way for citizens to have a say in a country’s rule, Atalay argued that they were trying to participate in the process of governance by opening cases and objecting to government’s plans for urban development, as democracy requires them to do.

“Chanting ‘government resign’ is not a crime. It does not violate the constitutional order,” he further argued.

“The situation of our cities, some of which are on the verge of ecological crisis, are significant. It is unacceptable to describe efforts to voice [concerns] and fight against that [approaching crisis] as crime,” the lawyer emphasized.

Atalay said the indictment includes parts about his participation in Berkin Elvan’s funeral.

“However, it does not talk about the fact that those who are responsible for the child’s death have not even spent a day behind bars,” he added.

The 15-year-old Elvan was hit on the head by a tear-gas canister fired by a police officer after going out to buy bread during the 2013 protests. He died on March 11, 2014, after being in a coma for 269 days.

Tayfun Kahraman, an executive from the Istanbul Chamber of City Planners, testified on Tuesday saying the indictment was prepared unlawfully.

Kahraman was a member of the Taksim Solidarity group, an initiative that was founded mainly by architects and city planners to oppose the government’s plans to build a shopping center on the site of Gezi Park.

The urban planner explained that he had participated in the protests as a professional chamber manager in an attempt to stop AKP government’s redevelopment plans in Gezi Park area.

“It is not a crime to object to the project planned in Gezi Park, nor to file a lawsuit and to inform the public. There is no reason to explain these accusations as an attempt to overthrow the government,” Kahraman argued.

Civil rights activist Mine Ozerden, another defendant of the case, held forth that they used their democratic right to protest the redevelopment of Gezi Park, which is a common living space for all citizens and even animals.

“I deny all of the claims, which lack concrete evidence. As a rights defender, I did not commit any crime,” Ozerden stressed.

Yigit Ali Ekmekci, a human rights defender and deputy chair of the executive board of Kavala’s non-governmental organization named Anadolu Kultur, also stated his defense on Tuesday.

The Anadolu Kultur organization is established to support peace and democracy through arts and culture in Turkey.

Accused in the indictment of financing the mass protests, Ekmekci said that the foundation was not involved in “financing or organizing Gezi incidents.”

Among those who attended Tuesday’s hearing were pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputies Filiz Kerestecioglu, Garo Paylan, Ahmet Sik and Meral Danis Bestas.

Rebecca Harms, Green Member of the European Parliament, was also at the Istanbul court to observe the trial on Tuesday. Harms tweeted about the hearing and expressed support for the defendants, especially for Kavala and Aksakoglu.

“The good news: Yigit is free tonight. The very sad news: Osman Kavala still incarcerated. Many people left the courthouse in tears after the arbitrary decision,” she said in a tweet following the trial.

“The case is a showcase for the actual situation in Turkish courts. All rules and standards, Turkish and international, are broken. So it’s also up to European Parliament, Commission and Council to react,” she also said on her Twitter account on Wednesday.

The next hearing of the Gezi Park trial will reportedly be held on 18 and 19 July in a prison complex on western Istanbul’s outskirts.

Sixteen civil society leaders on trial over Turkey’s Gezi protests

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