Activist and businessman Osman Kavala, a major supporter of Turkish arts and culture, was sentenced on April 25 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He was accused of attempting to overthrow the government.
The decision was handed down by Istanbul’s 13th Criminal Court, under the auspices of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, which imprisoned him in 2017 for alleged involvement in a plot to overthrow the regime in 2016. Since then, Osman Kavala has been held in Silvri maximum security prison without conviction, spending most of his time in solitary confinement. His treatment caused global outrage.
Among those who called for his release during his lengthy internment were the ambassadors of ten Western countries, as well as the International Committee of Museums and Collections of Modern Art, as well as leading cultural figures in Istanbul, who led the “Free Osman Kavala” campaign.
Founder of Istanbul-based non-profit art center Anadolu Kültür and creator of Depo Istanbul, an independent art space that serves as a platform for critical opinion, Paris-born Osman Kavala has been a central figure on the Turkish cultural scene for a long time.
The court initially accused Erdogan of funding and fueling the protests that rocked the country in 2013, in particular the demonstrations in Gezi Park. After serving two and a half years, Osman was acquitted in February 2020, then re-arrested the next day, and a month later he was charged with espionage under article 328 of the Turkish Penal Code regarding obtaining information that, by its nature, must be kept secret by reasons related to security or internal or external political interests of the state, for the purposes of political or military espionage.
After the failed 2016 coup, the article was used as a pretext to bring charges against numerous high-profile journalists and academics. Osman Kavala was sentenced in front of a crowded court and was quickly condemned. “His unfair conviction is contrary to respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law,” the US State Department said.
Nils Muižnieks, director of Amnesty International Europe, called the decision “a travesty of justice on a flagrant scale” that “defies all logic”, further arguing that “this verdict deals a devastating blow not only to Osman Kavala, his co-defendants, and their families but also to all who believe in justice and advocacy in Turkey and beyond.”
Seven activists and artists were also convicted of participating in the Gezi Park protests and sentenced to eighteen years each. They were Hakan Altınay, a member of the executive board of Anadolu Kültür; housing lawyer Can Atalay; Yigit Ali Ekmekci, Deputy Chairman of Anadolu Kültür; urban planner Typhoon Kahraman; directed by Mine Ozerden; documentary filmmaker Chigdem Mater Utku; and architect Myuchella Yapici.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose government has become more authoritarian in recent years, has accused Kavala of being an agent of Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros.