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EU delegation urges immediate release of Turkish philanthropist Kavala

The Delegation of the European Union to the Council of Europe (EUDEL) has called on Turkey to urgently release prominent Turkish businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, the T24 news website reported on Thursday.

Kavala has been in prison since October 2017 over terrorism charges for his alleged role in the Gezi Park protests.

The demonstrations that started in the summer of 2013 as a reaction against the urban development plan for Taksim Gezi Park in Istanbul quickly spread across Turkey.

The businessman and 15 other leading civil society figures are blamed for attempting to overthrow the government of then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan by organizing and financing 2013’s nation-wide protests.

On June 25, an Istanbul court ruled in favor of releasing Yigit Aksakoglu, a civil society activist who had been in prison since last November, but it decided for the continuation of Kavala’s detention.

In a statement ( https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/council-europe/64979/eudel-statement-human-rights-turkey_en) released on Wednesday EUDEL called for the urgent release of Kavala who already has already spent more than 600 days behind bars.

“The court’s decision to release Yigit Aksakoglu pending trial is positive news. However, the EU calls for the release without delay also of Osman Kavala for the remaining period of his trial, and notes that use of prolonged pre-trial detention can undermine the principle of presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial,” the statement read.

The prosecutor of the case is demanding aggravated life sentences for the 16 defendants, which includes journalist Can Dundar, actors Memet Ali Alabora and Pinar Alabora, city planners Mucella Yapici and Tayfun Kahraman, and lawyer Can Atalay.

EUDEL said that seeking life sentences for the peaceful participants of the Gezi Park protests is a “source of concern.”

“It also, together with the attempts [of Turkish officials] to portray the protests as a foreign plot, contributes to creating a climate of fear and to discourage the right to peaceful assembly,” it added in the statement.

It was also indicated in the report that the EU will continue to closely monitor the Gezi Park trial as well as other cases against journalists, members of parliament, human rights defenders, lawyers and academics “with the highest level of scrutiny.”

The EU further called on Turkish authorities to allow independent civil society organizations to carry out their legal and legitimate activities without restrictions.

“Concrete and lasting improvements in the area of human rights and the rule of law, an independent judiciary, including the respect of the principle of presumption of innocence and due legal process remain essential for the development of EU – Turkey relations,” the statement also said.

Referring to the judicial reform strategy announced by Erdogan at the end of May, the delegation highlighted that it needs to be followed up by “determined and concrete steps by Turkey to implement its commitments and present clear and tangible results.”

Although Turkey has been a candidate for EU membership for decades, the accession talks have stalled because of President Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule in the country.

The package of judicial reforms promises to enhance freedom of expression and strengthen democracy, rights, freedoms in Turkey while improving the functioning of the country’s judicial system in a bid to join the EU.

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

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