Little room for justice in Turkey’s Gezi Park trial, Amnesty International warns

Courtrooms designed for mass trials along with no legal arguments and the continued pretrial detention of a prominent businessman that is fast approaching two years has left Amnesty International warning on an article published on Ceasefire magazine that there “is little room for justice” in Turkey.

The warning from the international rights organization follows the latest hearing on July 18 in the Gezi Park Trial in Silivri, west of Istanbul, after which the court ruled that the pretrial detention of businessman Osman Kavala, Amnesty should continue.

The court decided by a majority vote to extend the detention of philanthropist Kavala, who is accused of attempting to topple Turkey’s government by organizing protests in 2013.

Kavala, who has spent more than 630 days in prison, is the only defendant of the 16 that is still being detained ahead of the trial.  The other 15 defendants include civil society figures, writers and actors.

Going on two years

Amnesty International ‘s Turkey campaigner Milena Buyum said: “Osman Kavala will remain in prison. By the time of his next hearing, he will have been behind bars for almost two years, a very long period of pretrial detention even by Turkey’s terrible standards.”

Buyum also shared her impressions on the atmosphere in the courtroom and how frustrated she was to hear the of the decision being published in a report by the Ceasefire Magazine last week.

After learning from a clerk that the courtroom is large enough to have 200 seats for lawyers and 250 for defendants, Buyum says: “The numbers send chills down my spine. This is a courtroom designed for mass trials.”

She adds: “I am in the gargantuan courthouse that squats behind the walls of the Silivri high-security prison, the largest jail in Europe. I’m here to observe the start of the second hearing of 16 Turkish civil society figures, including the prominent figure, Osman Kavala.”

Being in pretrial detention since November 2017, Kavala will face life imprisonment without the possibility of parole along with the other accused in the event that they are found guilty.

They are accused of orchestrating the Gezi Park protests in 2013, which was a move that aimed to stop the proposed demolition of the park by then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

A loud applause for Kavala

Although it started with a small number of demonstrators, the protest quickly turned into a nationwide revolt due to Erdogan’s uncompromising stance and a heavy-handed police crackdown.

Buyum said  there was loud applause when Kavala entered the courtroom surrounded by 15 or more prison gendarmes with two of them on each side holding him under the arms.

She says that a number of lawyers explained in detail why the 657-page-long indictment against the defendants does not contain evidence required to justify the charges they face.

The campaigner then quotes Kavala as saying; “There is not a shred of evidence in the taped conversations that I have had a role in organizing the Gezi Park protests or that I participated in any meetings or gatherings that involved violence.

On the contrary, I played the role of the intermediary between the protesters and the authorities, to change the course of events towards a peaceful conclusion.”

Did the prosecutor listen to the legal arguments?

She then talked about the prosecutor, who stood up and went through the defendants’ requests for release one by one and asked “in a monotonous tone” that they be rejected.

“He offers no justification for his requests, no challenge or legal argument, at all,” she said. “His short intervention makes me wonder whether he has listened to anything that was said over the past six hours as the defense lawyers had systematically dismantled any justification for their prosecution.”

After hearing that all the defendants’ requests have been rejected by a majority decision, she concludes the report by saying, “I feel the hope that I had allowed to build, disappear. I look around the vastness of this courtroom: so much space, and yet so little room for justice.”

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