Can Osman Kavala trust the Turkish justice system?

Can Osman Kavala trust the Turkish justice system?

“A year has passed since my residence in Silivri [prison]. I believe that those accusing me of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and the government realize better each passing day that I have no relation whatsoever with these crimes. But this learning process is taking place at the cost of my freedom... I want to join my family, my friends and get my freedom as soon as possible. Yet I deem to be crucial to end trial under arrest and long periods of pre-trial arrests which has become a sentence in itself. I hope that my situation will contribute to better understand the damage this flawed arrest regime is inflicting on the Turkish Republic and its justice. I think giving back freedoms to those who have suffered from an approach that does not value human freedom, which is against the constitution and the norms of European Court of Human Rights, are among the state’s most important priorities.”

This is the message Osman Kavala sent from his prison cell on the 365th day of his arrest.

It is worth noting that instead of keeping the focus solely on himself, Kavala has drawn attention to a practice (long periods of pre-trial arrest) that has turned into an injustice for many people who are later acquitted.

This is an attitude to be expected from a civil rights activist like Kavala, a wealthy businessman who, instead of making the headlines with a lavish lifestyle, chose to work for what he believed would best to the benefit of the society.

Whatever activity he undertook, he did not do it just for himself. So it might appear only natural that even in his current circumstances, instead of keeping the spotlight on himself, he chose to underline an understanding that is leaving many victims behind.

“He is a difficult client,” said one of his lawyers during the press conference organized on Oct. 31, adding that he did not want debates to be held around his name.

“We have remained distant to the press for the past year,” said another lawyer, İlhan Koyuncu, using a verb in Turkish that combines “relying, appealing, seeking the help of” in his next sentence.

“We relied on the judiciary in the course of this past year. We will continue to rely [or seek the help of] on the judiciary. We are appealing for the release of Kavala; we are appealing to the judiciary for his release. We are not appealing to any country for his release or we are not having an expectation from politics for his release,” he added.

This statement, as well as comments from certain activists at the press conference criticizing the lack of an intensive public opinion campaign for his release, shows that Kavala and his family prefer to keep the case totally within the boundary of law and avoid politicizing it domestically or internationally.

Kavala is accused of organizing and financing the Gezi incidents which Justice and Development Party (AK Party) rulers believe were aimed at overthrowing the government with the help of “foreign forces.”

Kavala is also accused of being “in relation with foreigners who played a role in the July 15 [2016] coup attempt.”

As it can be seen, there is a “foreign dimension” to both of the accusations. Obviously since there is still no indictment, it is impossible to guess which of Kavala’s “international dealings” were interpreted as targeting the overthrow of the government or of the constitutional order.

Kavala might have thought that an international campaign to be conducted on his behalf for his release might negatively affect the decision makers who are already suspicious of his international contacts.

Instead of counting on an international pressure on the local authorities, Kavala seems to have vested his confidence in the Turkish judiciary to see his innocence and decide for his release.

But this has not been the case.

Five years have passed between his arrest and Gezi incidents and a year after the coup attempt. The pleas for his release have all been turned down by the standard criteria that “there is a strong suspicion of guilt, possibility of fleeing and distorting the evidence.”

If there was such a strong suspicion of guilt, it would not have taken so long to prepare the indictment, according to his lawyers. If there is a risk of fleeing the country he would have done so in the course of the past five years, and in fact if he wanted to hide the evidence, again he would not have waited for a year to do so.

While his lawyers claim that major injustice is being done to Kavala, he seems resolute to still seek remedy from the Turkish judiciary.

Will the Turkish judiciary prove him right and justice will eventually be met in his case? If there is one reason to be optimistic, that could be Kavala’s application to the European Court of Human Rights. The court in Strasbourg decided to hear the case in an accelerated procedure and has asked a series of questions to the Turkish government, the answers of which might help Kavala’s lawyers to press for his release and prepare for his defense as they do not have access to the evidence on which Kavala is accused of having committed a crime.

Let’s not forget that while it is in Strasbourg, the European Court of Human Rights is part of the Turkish judicial system.

So we will see if Kavala is right to rely solely on the Turkish judiciary while avoiding mobilizing legitimate international initiatives.

Osman Kavala, Judiciary, Turkey