On Thursday, Turkish officials criticized ambassadors from 10 countries, including the United States, Germany and France, for their joint call for the release of jailed businessman Osman Kavala. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey should not host diplomats while the Foreign Ministry said Ankara was free to take whatever action it deemed appropriate, warning it would do so “when came”.
The Foreign Office summoned the ambassadors on Tuesday for what it called an “irresponsible” statement calling for a fair and speedy resolution of Kavala’s case.
Kavala was acquitted last year of charges related to nationwide protests in 2013, but the ruling was overturned this year and combined with charges in another case related to the failed coup attempt in 2016. He has denied any wrongdoing.
In a statement this week, the ambassadors called on Turkey to secure Kavala’s speedy release.
“I told our Minister of Foreign Affairs: we cannot afford to welcome so many people to our country. Is it up to you to teach Turkey such a lesson? Who do you think you are? Erdoğan reportedly told reporters on his plane returning from a trip to Africa.
He rejected any suggestion that the Turkish judiciary was not independent. “Our judicial system is one of the finest examples of independence,” he said.
Asked by reporters whether Turkey would take further action against the ambassadors, Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgiç said Ankara had the freedom to take whatever action it deemed appropriate and that she would do so “when the time comes”, without giving further details.
“The duty of ambassadors is not to interfere in the internal affairs of the countries where they are posted,” Bilgiç said at a press briefing in Ankara. “As an independent country, Turkey can take the necessary measures when it sees fit.”
Last month, the 47-member Council of Europe – of which Turkey is a member – said they would initiate infringement proceedings against Turkey unless Kavala was released before the next meeting of the committee of ministers. in November. The infringement procedure could lead to punitive measures against Turkey, including its possible suspension from the organization which promotes democracy and human rights. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) called for Kavala’s release in December 2019, saying the detention was aimed at silencing him. The United States also called for his release in February.
Kavala and eight others accused of organizing the Gezi Park protests in 2013 were acquitted of all charges in February 2020, but an appeals court overturned that decision in January. A court recently ruled that he will remain in prison until a hearing scheduled for November 26 takes place to determine whether or not he will be released. Kavala is also accused of participating in the failed 2016 coup attempt. These charges were combined with the Gezi case in February.
Ankara has previously chastised Washington for once again trying to intervene in its domestic politics and also called on the United States to respect the independence of Turkey’s judiciary.
Kavala was first arrested on criminal charges related to the 2013 Gezi events, a small number of protests in Istanbul that later escalated into nationwide protests that left eight protesters and one policeman dead. The businessman was later remanded in custody by an Istanbul court as part of an investigation into the failed 2016 coup attempt, with prosecutors accusing him of espionage.
The indictment against Kavala and the other 15 defendants accuses the suspects of financing and coordinating actions and protests in 2013 and claims they had been involved in and led aspects of an uprising since 2011. Kavala has maintained his claim that he participated in peaceful activities to defend the environment and the park, which is near his office, and denied the charge of having organized and financed the protests.
Hundreds of thousands of people marched through Istanbul in June 2013 in what began as a peaceful protest against a plan to build a replica of an Ottoman barracks on Gezi Park, located near Taksim Square in the district center of Beyoglu. Following the police response to control the protests, the movement grew with demonstrations and riots across the country against the government of then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.