ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Europe’s democracy and human rights-promoting body said Friday it is initiating a rare disciplinary process against Turkey after it failed to comply with a court's ruling to release jailed businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala.
Last week, a court in Istanbul extended Kavala’s imprisonment, defying the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that the businessman was unjustly jailed.
The Council of Europe warned Turkey in September that it would begin infringement proceedings unless Kavala was freed before its meeting this week. The lengthy process could lead to the suspension of Turkey’s voting rights or membership in the 47-nation human rights body.
The council said in a statement that its Committee of Ministers concluded that by failing to free Kavala, "Turkey is refusing to abide by the court’s final judgment in this case.”
Turkey’s possible suspension from the Council of Europe would further isolate Ankara, threatening a key link to Europe.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry called on the Council of Europe to respect Turkey's ongoing legal proceedings involving Kavala and to “avoid taking further steps, which would amount to interference in the independent judiciary.”
“The message from the Committee of Ministers to Turkey is crystal clear," said Nils Muiznieks, Amnesty International's director for Europe. “Turkey’s failure to ensure the immediate release of Osman Kavala and end his politically motivated prosecution is an unacceptable breach of the country’s human rights obligations.”
“After more than four years behind bars on politically motivated charges, he must be allowed to finally return home to his family," Muiznieks said.
Kavala has been incarcerated for more than four years without having been convicted of a crime, prompting claims of political persecution against the businessman amid international criticism of Ankara’s crackdown on opponents.
His case caused a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and 10 Western countries, including the United States, France and Germany, after they called for his release.
The European court, whose decisions are binding on Council of Europe members, demanded Kavala’s release two years ago pending trial, saying his imprisonment aimed to silence him and was not supported by evidence of an offense.
Turkey insists he is being held based on rulings of its courts.
Kavala, 64, is accused of funding nationwide anti-government protests in 2013 and helping orchestrate a coup attempt three years later. He denies the charges, which carry a life sentence without the chance of parole.
Kavala was acquitted in February 2020 of charges in connection with 2013’s Gezi protests, but the ruling was overturned and linked to charges relating to the coup attempt.
His trial is now part of a merged case involving 51 other defendants, including fans of the Besiktas soccer club who were acquitted six years ago of charges related to the Gezi protests before that decision also was overturned.
Kavala is known for his support of the arts and his funding of projects promoting cultural diversity and minority rights. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused him of being the “Turkish leg” of billionaire U.S. philanthropist George Soros, whom Erdogan alleges has been behind insurrections in many countries.
Suzan Fraser, The Associated Press