Turkish dissident journalist Can Dündar holds a banner with the image of imprisoned political activist Osman Kavala along with other demonstrators in front of the Turkish Embassy in Berlin on May 4, 2022. (photo by Omer Messinger/Getty Images)

A top Turkish appeals court has upheld the life imprisonment of Osman Kavala, the arts philanthropist who was detained in 2017 for his alleged involvement in the 2013 anti-government Gezi Park protests. Last spring, Kavala was handed a life sentence without parole. The international community has decried his detention as a violation of human rights.

Seven other individuals convicted in last year’s Gezi Park trials were handed 18-year sentences; the court’s ruling yesterday, September 28, overturned three of those decisions but upheld the remaining four. Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman, Çiğdem Mater, and Mine Özerden were ordered to serve prison sentences, while Yiğit Ekmekçi, Mücella Yapıcı, and Hakan Altınay are set to be released.

Kavala was first detained at an Istanbul airport in 2017 over his alleged connection to the protests four years earlier. A court overturned those charges in 2020, but within hours, Kavala was accused of participating in a 2016 military coup and forced to remain in detention. The 2020 acquittal was reversed and he was sentenced to life in prison in April 2022 based on his alleged financial sponsorship of the 2013 protests, charges human rights organizations such as Amnesty International decried as “baseless” and “an attempt to silence independent voices.”

Kavala ran the arts nonprofit Anadolu Kültür, which focused largely on preserving the cultural memory of marginalized groups in Turkey, including Armenian and Kurdish communities. The country’s authoritarian president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has restricted minority rights in the nation since he assumed power in 2014.

The international community has repeatedly criticized the Turkish government for Kavala’s detention. The US State Department has issued multiple statements demanding the philanthropist’s release, as have the European Human Rights Court and the Council of Europe. The latter launched infringement proceedings against Turkey earlier this year.

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.

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