Osman Kavala at the Armenian Genocide centennial commemoration near Taksim Square, Istanbul in 2015. (via Wikimedia Commons)

The human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) is calling on the Council of Europe (CoE) to launch infringement proceedings against Turkey after a court extended the imprisonment of arts philanthropist Osman Kavala last week. The “rarely used” procedure, to be voted on in a meeting of the CoE today, November 30, could lead to the suspension of Turkey’s membership in the council and would further damage its diplomatic relations with Europe.

Kavala has spent the last four years behind bars without conviction, despite repeated calls for his release. In 2017, he was accused of attempting to overthrow the Turkish government and jailed in the high-security Silivri prison in what AI describes as “barely disguised political persecution.” The businessman and founder of the Anadolu Kültür nonprofit art center in Istanbul has been targeted for supporting cultural heritage projects for persecuted groups in Turkey, including Armenians, Kurds, Greeks, and Yazidis. Kavala has also advocated for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation in a nation that does not recognize the Armenian Genocide, the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915-16.

Last February, he was acquitted by an Istanbul court of the initial charges against him, related to nationwide protests in 2013, and immediately rearrested for his alleged involvement in a failed military coup in 2016.

The persecution and ongoing detainment of Kavala emblematizes intolerance of dissent in Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and international governments and organizations have insistently demanded his freedom. This year, the US State Department released a statement denouncing the “specious charges” against the philanthropist, asking Turkey to abide by a 2019 European Court of Human Rights ruling that found an “absence of facts, information or evidence” for the criminal charges against him and a “chilling effect on society” as a result of his detainment.

“Turkey’s persistent refusal to implement the judgment of the Court further exacerbates the impunity for the gross violation of Osman Kavala’s right to freedom found by the Court,” Nils Muižnieks, AI’s Europe director, said in an open letter published last Friday, following the Turkish court’s decision to continue Kavala’s incarceration.

Muižnieks urged the 47 member states of the CoE to vote in favor of infringement proceedings against Turkey.

“As you know, every vote counts and an absence or an abstention will de facto count as a vote against opening this crucial procedure,” he added, addressing the CoE heads of state. “Justice must be done for Osman Kavala, victim of the abject arbitrariness that the Council of Europe is meant to eradicate.”

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