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Osman Kavala at the Armenian Genocide centennial commemoration in Istanbul (via Wikimedia Commons)

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Yesterday, February 10, the United States urged Turkey to release art philanthropist Osman Kavala, who has been imprisoned since 2017 without conviction, accused of orchestrating an attempted coup against the Turkish government.

On Friday, February 5, a Turkish court declined Kavala’s request for release, combining two cases against him after an appeals court overturned his acquittal in one instance.

“The specious charges against Kavala, his ongoing detention, and the continuing delays in the conclusion of his trial, including through the merger of cases against him, undermine respect for the rule of law and democracy,” the Department of State announcement read. “We urge Turkey to abide by the European Court of Human Rights’ rulings and ensure a just, transparent, and speedy resolution to the case in line with its domestic laws and international obligations.”

Kavala is the founder of Anadolu Kültür, an Istanbul-based nonprofit art center. He has come under fire for various controversial positions in Turkey, including his support of cultural ties with Armenia. Turkey has had a blockade against the small republic since the 1990s and continues to deny the Armenian Genocide. Kavala and his organization have also spearheaded cultural projects that center marginalized groups in Turkey, including Armenians, Kurds, Greeks, and Yazidis. In 2002, Anadolu Kültür founded the Diyarbakır Arts Center as its arm in its eponymous, predominately Kurdish city.

As he entered his second year of solitary confinement, he was at the center of a March 2019 crackdown against prominent cultural workers in Turkey who were indicted for allegedly organizing the anti-government Gezi Park protests in 2013. Since 2017, several international officials and organizations have urged his release; in December of 2019, the European Court of Human Rights demanded his freedom due to lack of “facts, information, or evidence” regarding any alleged offenses.

Last February, after Kavala was acquitted by an Istanbul court for charges of plotting to overthrow the government, he was immediately detained again on charges of espionage

Last July, to recognize the philanthropist’s 1000th day in detention, an international community of activists called attention to Kavala’s dubious imprisonment through a “Free Osman Kavala” campaign. Amnesty International USA, Freedom House, PEN America, and the Project on Middle East Democracy co-signed a letter to the US Department of State urging it to publicly demand the “immediate and unconditional release of Kavala and all prisoners of conscience in Turkey.”

“Kavala’s case is emblematic of the thousands of people arbitrarily detained in Turkish prisons in the context of politically motivated prosecutions, simply for exercising their rights to peaceful opposition and freedom of expression,” the letter said.

The State Department also noted concern for Henri Barkey, who in 2016 was accused of plotting a coup in Turkey, saying, “We believe the charges against Dr. Barkey to be baseless, and we call on Turkey to resolve his case in a just, transparent, and rapid manner.”

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Jasmine Weber is Hyperallergic's news editor. She is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn, particularly interested in Black art histories and visual culture....