Ankara rejects growing global criticism over Turkish philanthropist’s life sentence

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Turkey is facing a growing domestic and international backlash following the sentencing of Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala, who was jailed for life without the possibility of parole on Monday for seeking to overthrow the government. The case, widely condemned as politically motivated, could strain ties with Turkey’s Western allies.

Seven co-accused were sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey representative of New York-based Human Rights Watch, criticized the sentencing.

“There is nothing in this trial that resembles evidence. It is a trial built on outlandish claims. And it is truly a warning not only to human rights defenders and civil society, but to all society that criticism and opposition statements and activities will be targeted,” she said. “It’s a warning to everyone that this government will come after you if it wants to.”

Many of Turkey’s Western allies also condemned the sentencing. In a statement, US State Department spokesman Ned Price called for Kavala’s release, saying the verdict was “deeply disturbing” and “unjust”.

Protesters hold a banner that reads “Justice for All” in Turkish during a demonstration against a Turkish court’s decision to sentence activist Osman Kavala to life in prison, in Istanbul on April 26, 2022 .

France and Germany also criticized the decision, calling for Kavala’s immediate release.

Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag responded by saying that countries have no right to criticize Turkey’s judicial system. Kavala, 64, a Paris-born Turkish businessman, is one of Turkey’s most prominent philanthropists, backing civil society, backing projects including bridging ethnic divides in Turkish society and advocating for human rights. the man.

Kavala’s lawsuit has become a symbol of what critics say is Turkey’s authoritarian slide under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a charge the president strongly rejects.

In 2019, Kavala’s prosecution was deemed politically motivated by the European Court of Human Rights, which called for his immediate release. Meanwhile, the Council of Europe has opened a rare disciplinary case against Turkey regarding the prosecution of Kavala. But with Erdogan playing a central role in seeking an end to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Sezin Oney, a columnist for the Politikyol news portal, said pragmatism could prevent any serious consequences for Turkey.

“Well, right now the invasion of Ukraine and the war in Ukraine is such a serious problem that I don’t think any Western government, not the United States or the EU countries , can’t take really viable action against Turkey, like sanctions or whatever. This is a time when the government feels strong vis-a-vis the West,” Oney said.

Highlighting Turkey’s role in peace efforts on Monday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met Erdogan in Ankara to discuss Ukraine. Analysts suggest that Erdogan, who has strongly backed his judiciary in the Kavala case, is likely calculating the diplomatic fallout will be limited to angry rhetoric but, with Kavala and his co-defendants expected to appeal their convictions, controversy is expected continue.

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