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Osman Kavala - A voice from prison

May 8, 2023

The Turkish human rights activist and arts patron Osman Kavala has been in prison since 2017. The philanthropist, who campaigns for democracy and the rule of law in Turkey, is regarded as a public enemy by the Erdogan government.


Osman Kavala is the founder and chairman of the arts and culture foundation Anadolu Kültür and has initiated numerous projects to promote dialogue between different cultures and communities and strengthen Turkish civil society. He also champions the rights of minorities in Turkey, first and foremost the Kurdish and Armenian ones. The businessman was originally arrested on charges of masterminding the 2013 Gezi Park mass protests against the government of President Erdogan. He was acquitted of that charge in February 2020. He was released from detention at the Silivri high security prison but re-arrested just a few hours later - and this time accused of involvement in an attempted coup. In 2022, Kavala was sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment. "When I heard the verdict, what I felt was deep sorrow for the state of the judiciary and the judges in my country. There are many prisoners who are detained or sentenced by means of arbitrary decisions, and quite a number of them have been behind bars longer than myself,” Kavala writes from prison. His detention drew international condemnation and is seen as part of widespread measures to curtail freedom of expression and human rights in Turkey. The European Court of Human Rights ordered the human rights activist’s release in 2019 and described the detention as politically motivated. Linda Vierecke’s film draws a portrait of Osman Kavala using his own words and hearing from people who were influenced by him or who are close to him. Kavala’s wife Ayşe Buğra tells the couple’s troubled story and Asena Günal, Executive Director of Anadolu Kültür, relates just how much Turkish civil society is missing his voice and his commitment - especially now, in the wake of the earthquake catastrophe. "In prison, one often has thoughts about death,” 65-year-old Osman Kavala writes to the director. "However, I have never worried about the prospect of spending the rest of my life behind bars; rather, I simply cannot foresee when I will be released... I do hope to see at least some of those responsible for these injustices brought before the court. This is not for the sake of fulfilling my feeling of revenge, but to prevent this sort of manipulation of judiciary happening again in the future.”