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‘Arbitrary’ Gezi Park trial verdict rendered ‘under political pressure,’ Kavala says

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Businessman and rights defender Osman Kavala has said in a written statement that a recent court decision sentencing him to life in prison and his co-defendants to 18 years each on charges of instigating the anti-government Gezi Park protests was “arbitrary” and “taken in violation of legal norms under political pressure,” local media reported on Wednesday.

An İstanbul court on April 25 sentenced Kavala, who had been behind bars without a conviction for over four years, to aggravated life on charges of “attempting to topple the government,” while sentencing seven other defendants to 18 years each on charges of aiding the attempt.

Kavala said in a statement on Wednesday released by his lawyers who visited him in Silivri Prison in İstanbul that “fellow citizens who embrace democratic principles and love their country” were sentenced in the Gezi Park trial.

“As stated in the dissenting opinion of one of the judges in the panel, this decision is based on unlawfully collected evidence that does not lead to reasonable doubt that any crime was committed. Thus, the decision is arbitrary and taken in violation of legal norms under political pressure,” the activist added.

Noting that it was “a simple fact” that he hadn’t organized the Gezi protests, Kavala said it was “futile to link Soros or any other external actor to the fact that hundred thousands of our fellow citizens took to the streets against anti-democratic practices with a sense of justice, demanding freedom.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has branded Kavala as a communist agent of the Hungarian-born US philanthropist George Soros who is allegedly using foreign money to try and topple the state.

“The Gezi trial unveiled the state of the judiciary, further exposing the great danger posed to fellow citizens by manipulation of the judiciary in such terms,” Kavala further said.

The Gezi Park demonstrations, which took place in the summer of 2013 in reaction to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s attempt to destroy one of the few green spaces left in İstanbul, quickly turned into a nationwide protest against the authoritarian policies of then-prime minister and current president Erdoğan.

Eleven protestors died and thousands more were injured as they were brutally suppressed by the police on Erdoğan’s instructions.

A leading figure in Turkey’s civil society, 64-year-old Kavala was born in Paris, educated in the UK and ran a cultural center before being thrust to prominence. He was accused of financing protests against then-prime minister Erdoğan’s government during large-scale protests in 2013 and involvement in a failed military coup in 2016. The latest ruling only covered the case stemming from the 2013 unrest.

Kavala’s plight had soured relations between Ankara and Western nations, and a diplomatic crisis was triggered last year when Turkey threatened to expel 10 Western ambassadors, including the US envoy, after they demanded Kavala’s release.

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