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Turkey: Release Osman Kavala

Authorities Should Comply with Council of Europe Order to Free Human Rights Defender


Osman Kavala © 2017 Anadolu Kültür

(Geneva) – Turkish authorities should immediately release human rights defender Osman Kavala, in compliance with the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers’ decision of September 3, 2020, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Human Rights Watch, and the Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project said today.

The decision followed a Committee of Ministers hearing to assess the execution of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Osman Kavala. The Committee, acting in its supervisory capacity for Court judgments, ordered the Turkish authorities “to ensure the applicant’s immediate release,” pointing to “a strong presumption that his current detention is a continuation of the violations found by the Court.”

“After the finding by the European Court of Human Rights that Kavala’s detention is unlawful, the Committee of Ministers has affirmed that Turkey is continuing to violate his rights by keeping him in detention,” said Roisin Pillay, director of the Europe and Central Asia Programme at the International Commission of Jurists. “European Court rulings are binding, and Osman Kavala should be released immediately.”

Despite the unlawful detention and an acquittal by the Turkish criminal court presiding over his trial, Osman Kavala has been kept behind bars under a newly issued charge of “espionage” since March 2020. His lawyers are currently challenging the lawfulness of the detention before Turkey’s Constitutional Court. However, the Committee of Ministers indicated in its decision that Turkey should not wait for a ruling of the Constitutional Court but should release Kavala immediately.

In June, the ICJ, Human Rights Watch, and the Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project made a detailed submission to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which oversees enforcement of European Court of Human Rights judgments. The submission argued that the sequence of events and repeated local court decisions to ensure Kavala’s detention subsequent to the European Court’s ruling in December 2019, demonstrated that Turkey was prolonging the violations found by the European Court.  

The European Court judgment in Kavala v. Turkey – Application no. 28749/18 – found violations of the following provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights: article 5(1), right to liberty and security; article 5(4), right to a speedy decision on the lawfulness of detention; and the rarely used article 18, limitation on use of restrictions on rights, taken together with article 5(1). The Court required Turkey to release Kavala and said that any continuation of his detention would prolong the violations and breach the obligation to abide by the judgment in accordance with article 46(1) of the Convention.

The judgment on Osman Kavala’s case is particularly significant because it is the first final ruling of the European Court of Human Rights against Turkey in which the Court determined that, in interfering with an individual’s rights, Turkey acted in bad faith and out of political motivations, violating article 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court said that by detaining Kavala since November 2017 and prosecuting him, the Turkish authorities had “pursued an ulterior purpose, namely to silence him as human rights defender.”

Kavala has been held in detention since November 2017, initially on bogus allegations that he used the 2013 Istanbul Gezi Park protests as a pretext for an attempt to overthrow the government, and that he was involved in the July 15, 2016 attempted military coup. On February 18, 2020, Kavala and his eight co-defendants were acquitted on charges of “attempting to overthrow the government by force and violence” in the Gezi Park trial.

But Kavala was not released, and a court ordered his detention again immediately on one of the grounds for his initial detention on November 1, 2017, namely the charge of “attempting to overthrow the constitution by force and violence” because of the ongoing July 15, 2016 coup attempt-related investigation against him. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had publicly criticized his acquittal just before he was detained again. Weeks later a court ordered his detention a second time on another charge, “espionage”, but under the same investigation file on the coup attempt and relying on the same evidence.

“The decision by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers confirms our submission that political considerations are behind the court orders prolonging Osman Kavala’s detention, and that there has been a concerted official effort to prevent Kavala’s release,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of complying with the European Court’s judgment, Turkey has continued to violate Kavala’s human rights.”

The targeted harassment in Turkey of rights defenders is part of a wider practice of arbitrary detentions and abusive prosecutions of journalists, elected politicians, lawyers, and other perceived government critics. This practice has been well-documented in many reports by the Council of Europe, the European Union, and human rights organizations.

“The campaign of persecution against Osman Kavala and the failure to release him and drop all charges have perpetuated a chilling environment for all human rights defenders in Turkey,” said Ayşe Bingöl Demir, co-director of the Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project. “Ending this blatantly unlawful detention, which has been ongoing for over 1,000 days, will not only play a role in preventing further violations to Osman Kavala’s rights, it will also give a strong signal to the human rights defenders community that the oversight mechanisms in place to ensure Turkey’s compliance with its international human rights obligations can still be effective.”

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