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US demands Turkey release philanthropist

February 11, 2021

Osman Kavala has been imprisoned for more than three years. He will soon face trial on charges of attempting to overthrow the government and espionage.

Osman Kavala
Osman Kavala has been jailed for three years without convictionImage: Wiktor Dabkowski/dpa/picture alliance

Turkey hit back at the United States on Thursday, after Washington called for Ankara to release jailed philanthropist Osman Kavala.

Kavala has been imprisoned for more than three years without conviction. He was released from jail a year ago after being acquitted on charges related to 2013 anti-government protests, but was immediately rearrested and charged with attempting to overthrow the government and espionage. 

The acquittal was eventually overturned, and a Turkish court ruled last week to combine the two charges for a hearing to start in May.

"The specious charges against Kavala, his ongoing detention, and the continuing delays in the conclusion of his trial, including through the merger of cases against him, undermine respect for the rule of law and democracy," the US State Department said in a statement on Wednesday.

Turkey rejects call

In response, the Turkish Foreign Ministry told the US to respect the independence of its courts.

"Turkey is a state of law. No country or person can give orders to Turkish courts about legal proceedings," it said. The US "must respect" legal proceedings against Kavala "by independent courts."

The ministry added that it was "inconsistent and unprincipled" for the US to issue such demands while refusing to extradite US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara blames for the failed 2016 coup.

Osman Kavala: Imprisoned activist, philanthropist

Courts ignore binding decision

Turkish courts have refused to implement a 2019 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights to release Kavala. As a member state of the Council of Europe, the court's rulings are binding on Turkey.

The US State Department urged Turkey to respect this ruling.

It also expressed concern that US-based academic Henri Barkey was charged alongside Kavala, for alleged links to coup plotters.

It called the charges against Barkey "baseless," and demanded a "transparent and rapid" resolution of his case.

After enjoying closer ties with former US President Donald Trump, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces renewed human rights pressure from Joe Biden's administration.

aw/rs (dpa, AFP, Reuters)