Turkey court keeps renowned philanthropist in jail

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Renowned Turkish philanthropist and rights advocate Osman Kavala, accused of seeking to overthrow the government, was kept in custody at his latest court hearing on Tuesday after more than 700 days in detention.

Kavala is accused of orchestrating the “Gezi Park” mass protests in 2013 in a trial described as “absurd” by rights groups.

At the third hearing in Silivri on the outskirts of Istanbul, the court ruled that Kavala would remain in jail until the next hearing on December 24, according to support group “We Defend Gezi.”

Rights groups say the 2013 protests, which began over plans to build over Gezi Park in Istanbul, had no leadership and that Kavala is being targeted because he supports democracy and the rule of law.

Prosecutors claim the Gezi protests were organized from outside the country in order to “bring Turkey to its knees.”

“In 635 pages of the indictment there is no evidence of his involvement in a conspiracy or organization of Gezi Park uprisings,” Murat Celikkan, of Turkey’s Human Rights Association, said in a press briefing last week.

“They want to show that they can touch anyone... It’s fear politics,” he added.

Kavala is one of 16 Turkish businessmen, academics and artists who face life imprisonment if convicted.

Celikkan said the lead judge had been removed from the case after twice voting for Kavala to be freed from detention during the trial.

Kavala has been in jail since November 2017, and has become a symbol of what activists say is the deliberate targeting of civil society.

He was among tens of thousands of people rounded up after an attempted coup in July 2016.

A respected figure in intellectual circles, Kavala is chairman of the Anatolian Culture Foundation, which seeks to bridge ethnic and regional divides through art, including with neighboring Armenia, with which Turkey has no diplomatic ties.

“He’s a bridge-builder, reaching different parts of the country. That alone breaks taboos in Turkey. He’s a great advocate of the rule of law and a democratic Turkey,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, of Human Rights Watch.