The Turkish government is upset: because ten ambassadors, including the German representative, have campaigned for the imprisoned patron of culture Osman Kavala, they have now been summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the world of diplomacy, this is seen as an expression of sharp criticism for the host country. In their statement, the diplomats demanded that Kavala, who had been imprisoned for four years without a guilty verdict, should be given a fair trial. The Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu tweeted angrily that Turkey was a constitutional state: “Ambassadors who make a recommendation and a proposal to the judiciary in an ongoing process are unacceptable.”
In addition to the German ambassador, the Turkish Foreign Ministry also invited representatives from the US, France, Italy and six other countries. The approach taken by the diplomats may seem unusual at first glance. The Kavala case has long been at the center of the debate regarding the dismantling of democracy and the rule of law in Turkey.
“The ongoing delays in Kavala’s trial, including the amalgamation of various cases and the creation of new allegations after an acquittal, cast a shadow over the respect for democracy, the rule of law and transparency in the Turkish judicial system,” the ambassadors said, according to Reuters, and a rule of law flawless and quick solution is required. With reference to judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), they demanded the immediate release of Kavala.
In the eyes of the critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Kavala case is an example of the persecution of opposition members by an increasingly politicized and controlled judiciary. The 63-year-old businessman has been imprisoned for four years without a sentence. He is a publisher and patron of culture and has promoted civil society projects. With his organization Anadolu Kültür, he had campaigned for an internal Turkish reconciliation with the Kurds and the Armenians.
Kavala also co-founded a Turkish branch of the Open Society Foundation. The US philanthropist George Soros supports democratic movements with the foundation. Kavala is also one of the opponents of the almost all-powerful presidential rule that Erdoğan had introduced. Kavala recently announced that he would remain in custody so that Ankara could continue to claim that the nationwide Gezi protests of 2013 were not a civil society rebellion, but a foreign-led conspiracy.
The legal procedure against Kavala seems bizarre. He was acquitted of the original charge that he organized and financed the Gezi protests that lasted for weeks in 2013. Instead of releasing him, however, the judiciary raised allegations again on the same day. Kavala now has to defend himself because of the alleged involvement in the coup attempt in 2016 and of alleged espionage.
The European Court of Human Rights demanded Kavala’s release in 2019. Turkey has so far ignored this judgment, although as a member of the Council of Europe it is obliged to implement it. The new trial against Kavala and more than four dozen other defendants was postponed to the beginning of November after the opening and is thus behind the binding date that the Council of Europe has set for Turkey.
Ankara is also coming under pressure elsewhere from the European Court of Human Rights: The court sentenced the Council of Europe member on Tuesday for violating freedom of expression. It’s about satirical Erdoğan postings on Facebook. The accused had therefore been sentenced to a one-year suspended prison. The verdict called on Ankara to amend the laws under which the man was sentenced. In Turkey, statements critical of the regime are regularly charged with insulting the president.