Council of Europe notifies Turkey of planned action over Osman Kavala

The Council of Europe has launched infringement proceedings against Turkey for refusing to release Osman Kavala, asking the country to submit its view on the case by Jan. 19, 2022. In a separate statement, the rights watchdog once again urged Turkey to ensure the immediate release of opposition Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş.

Duvar English - Reuters 

The Council of Europe said on Dec. 3 it ruled to 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.

"By failing to ensure the applicant's immediate release, the Committee (of Ministers) considers that Turkey is refusing to abide by the Court's (ECHR's) final judgment in this case," the Council of Europe statement said.

The Council asked Ankara to submit its view on the case by Jan 19, 2022 and the issue will be referred to the ECHR at its subsequent meeting on Feb. 2, it said.

If the court finds a violation, the Committee of Ministers can begin considering which measures should be taken. Turkey's membership or voting rights at the CoE could be suspended at the end of the proceedings.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry criticized the Committee's move. "(We) invite the CoE to refrain from continuing with this decision that will have the quality of interfering with the independent judiciary," it said.

Last week a Turkish court ruled to keep Kavala in prison, extending his four-year detention without conviction in a trial which has added to strains in Ankara's troubled relations with its Western allies.

The Council took the decision during its quarterly meeting which took place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2. Among the cases that was reviewed during the meeting was that of Kavala, who remains in prison in Turkey after four years without conviction in a case.

The Council had given its final warning to Turkey about the Kavala case in September, saying that it would launch infringement proceedings against the country if the philanthropist is not released by the end of November.

It has repeatedly called on Turkey to release Kavala in line with the ECHR's ruling which said in 2019 that the philanthropist's detention was political. Turkey has however refused to abide by the court's decision.

Kavala was jailed on Nov. 1, 2017, on charges of helping to organize the 2013 Gezi protests in Istanbul. Turkish courts ruled to acquit him and his co-defendants of these charges in February 2020, but he was immediately re-arrested and detained on charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and “espionage” related to the coup attempt of July 2016. Kavala, along with human rights organizations around the world, has unequivocally condemned these charges, calling them blatantly political.

Last month, a group of 10 ambassadors to Turkey, including those from the US, Canada, Germany, and France, issued a statement calling for Kavala’s release. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the statement, threatening to declare the ambassadors “persona non grata,” effectively expelling them from the country. In the end, the ambassadors relented, declaring that they would abide by the non-interference article (Article 41) of the Vienna convention. President Erdogan considered this a victory. 

All told, Kavala has been held in pre-trial detention for 1,473 days without conviction. 

Council of Europe urges Turkey to immediately release Demirtaş

In a separate statement on Dec. 3, the Council of Europe once again urged Turkish authorities to ensure the immediate release of opposition Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş.

Demirtas, the former co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), has been jailed pending trial since November 2016 on terrorism-related charges.