In Turkey, ‘red billionaire’ Osman Kavala remains behind bars

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Detained for four years without trial, Turkish businessman Osman Kavala will remain in detention until a next hearing on January 17, an Istanbul court ruled on Friday. Amnesty International denounces a “serious violation” of the rights of this publisher, one of President Erdogan’s pet peeves.

“Our right to a fair trial has been denied to us. Therefore, we do not plan to present a defense today,” Tolga Aytöre, Osman Kavala’s lawyer, told Istanbul court on Friday November 26. .

The Turkish entrepreneur, nicknamed the “red billionaire” for his commitment to the left, has been imprisoned without trial since October 18, 2017. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan then publicly accuses him in two speeches of “financing terrorism” and “representing in Turkey “the American billionaire George Soros, figure of international philanthropy and bête noire of several authoritarian leaders in the world.

Behind these public accusations, we find in filigree the support given by Osman Kavala to the anti-government protests of Gezi in 2013… and the resentment of Erdogan. Prosecuted for “attempting to overthrow the government”, he was finally acquitted for lack of evidence in February 2020, but was immediately placed in detention again, accused this time of having “sought to destabilize Turkey” during the coup d’état missed 2016. He faces life imprisonment.

Faced with this situation, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in 2019 that his detention was contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights (to which Turkey is a signatory) and demanded his “immediate release”.

Civil society figure

“Since his detention in 2017,” said Milena Büyüm, campaigner for Amnesty International Turkey contacted by France 24, “Amnesty has continuously called on the Turkish authorities to release Osman Kavala. There is no legal basis for his pre-trial detention. . It will be two years since the decision of the ECHR has not been followed by the Turkish government, and we hope that the Council of Europe will initiate a suspension procedure against Turkey. the ECHR is a serious violation of Osman Kavala’s rights, and a threat to the human rights system throughout the region. “

Last September, the Council of Europe threatened Turkey to initiate suspension proceedings if Osman Kavala was not released. This rare and complex procedure was only applied once against Russia, from 2017 to 2019. Following this announcement, ten Western ambassadors wrote a statement demanding the release of Osman. Kavala. Recep Tayyip Erdogan then threatened them with expulsion, before changing his mind, narrowly avoiding a major diplomatic crisis.

A central figure in civil society, Osman Kavala is known in Turkey and abroad for his humanist and progressive actions. He has been working for several years to reconcile memories and democratize Turkey.

Born in 1957 into one of the wealthiest families in the country, he studied economics in Manchester, Great Britain, where he demonstrated against the neoliberal and conservative policies of Margaret Thatcher, then in the midst of a clash with the IRA. He continued his training in New York, where he spent two years at the New School for Social Research.

He then returned to Turkey and took over the head of the family company in 1982, after the death of his father. He then creates Iletisim, a publishing house highlighting texts on democracy in Turkey. In 1986, according to Ariane Bonzon in Slate, it welcomes the first environmental activists of Turkey in one of its buildings, while they protest against the erection of a hotel on a beach sheltering sea turtles in danger of extinction.

Commitment to the recognition of the Armenian genocide

In 2002, after the AKP came to power, he financially supported civil society by creating a foundation, Anadolu Kultur, which promotes dialogue with Kurds and Armenians through art and culture.

In 2010, he participated in the first – unofficial – commemoration of the Armenian genocide organized in Turkey.

The same year, he co-produced “Chienne d’histoire”, an animated film by Serge Avédikian. Awarded the Palme d’Or for short film at the Cannes Film Festival, the film tells of the massive deportation of stray dogs from Constantinople in 1910. Based on real events, it can be seen as a metaphor for the Armenian genocide.

Osman Kavala manages to distribute DVDs to schools. He also assists several NGOs helping refugees in south-eastern Turkey, but fails to organize a concert by Franco-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour.

European mobilization

To mark the fourth year of preventive detention of the Turkish patron, the artist photographer Ateş Alpar walked the streets of Istanbul in early November with a large portrait of Osman Kavala.

One way to alert on the situation of this political prisoner, who estimated in October that his detention allowed Recep Tayyip Erdogan to justify his “conspiracy theses”: “Since I am accused of having taken part in a conspiracy organized by powers foreigners, releasing me would weaken this fiction and that is certainly not what the government wants, “he told AFP from his cell.

The decision of the Istanbul court therefore risks reviving diplomatic tensions: the Council of Europe will meet from November 30 to December 2, and could decide to initiate the suspension procedure against Turkey.

In the meantime, “the Anadolu Kultur foundation continues to operate, says Milena Büyüm of Amnesty International Turkey, and Osman Kavala is interested in what is happening outside prison. He continues to generate ideas, to read and to think about cultural exchange projects, which he passes on to his colleagues and to his wife through his lawyers. “

>> To read, our webdocumentary: “Turkey, the great purge. Four destinies upset by the state of emergency”

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In Turkey, ‘red billionaire’ Osman Kavala remains behind bars