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Council of Europe warns Turkey over jailed activist

December 3, 2021

The European rights body has said it will launch disciplinary action over Turkey's repeated refusal to comply with a 2019 ruling to release jailed activist Osman Kavala by the European Court of Human Rights.

A file photo of Osman Kavala in Istanbul
The European Court of Human Rights ordered Turkey in 2019 to release activist Osman KavalaImage: ANKA

The Council of Europe (COE) said Friday it will notify Turkey of its intention to launch "infringement proceedings" against the country over its failure to release philanthropist Osman Kavala in line with a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling.

The decision, announced in a statement from the pan-European rights body, comes after a Turkish court last week ruled to keep Kavala in prison, ignoring repeated pressure from the West.

In 2019, the European Court of Human Rights said Kavala's jailing for four years without conviction was political and called on Ankara to free him.

"By failing to ensure the applicant's immediate release, the committee considers that Turkey is refusing to abide by the court's final judgment in this case," the COE's latest statement said.

The COE has triggered a procedure used only once before in the organization's history, which could theoretically see Turkey expelled from the body, but only after an exhaustive multi-stage process.

Arrested over 2016 coup attempt

Kavala, a businessman, activist and philanthropist, was arrested in October 2017, accused of having links to the Gulen movement, which Ankara has labeled a terrorist group.

The Turkish government has accused the movement, led by exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen, of launching the failed 2016 coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's rule.

The 64-year-old Kavala is charged with financing 2013 anti-government protests and playing a role in the coup attempt.

He has become a symbol for his supporters of the sweeping crackdown Erdogan unleashed after the failed revolt.

Erdogan has often compared Kavala to Hungarian-born US financier George Soros and recently called him a "Soros leftover."

Kavala denies the charges and has hit back at the president's "insulting and defamatory statements" before he has even been convicted.

After previously attending the hearings in Istanbul's main court via video link from his prison cell on the city's outskirts, the activist says he had lost faith in a fair trial. 

If convicted, he could face a life term without the possibility of parole.

Turkey given 6 weeks to reply

In its statement Friday, the Council asked Ankara to submit its view on the case by January 19, 2022.

Ahead of the expected announcement, Ankara on Thursday urged the COE not to begin the action "out of respect for the ongoing judicial process," warning that the procedure would be "interference" in its domestic affairs.

The Council of Europe, established after World War Two, to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe has limited powers.

Turkey, which joined in 1950, is like all member states obliged to abide by the European Convention on Human Rights, which the ECHR oversees.

The decision now puts Turkey under formal notice that its failure to release Kavala will be referred back to the ECHR.

This is only the second time the COE has used its so-called infringement proceedings against one of its 47 member states, the first occasion being a 2017 action against Azerbaijan over its refusal to release a dissident.

The COE's statute allows for the suspension of a member state's voting rights, or even expulsion as an ultimate sanction.

However, the process is still far from reaching this stage and the mechanism exists to resolve such disputes. 

mm/rt (AFP, Reuters)