Supporters of the jailed businessman, philanthropist and civil society activist Osman Kavala met at Istanbul’s Cezayir Restaurant (which is owned by Kavala) on Wednesday to celebrate his 62nd birthday, which coincided with the 701st day Kavala has spent behind bars. Critics have blasted the criminal charges against him as ludicrous.
Kavala has been held in pre-trial detention on charges of attempting to overthrow the government, which has accused him of being one of the masterminds and financiers behind the 2013 Gezi Park protests. Other suspects in the case include prominent celebrities and civil society figures. A life sentence is being sought for Kavala.
For his birthday, a book was prepared by friends and supporters of Kavala, including letters, photographs, poems and collages. The book was delivered to Kavala by main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu. Kavala’s supporters at the Cezayir Restaurant celebration also signed a letter on his behalf that will be sent to the Ministry of Justice.
The indictment against Kavala and his co-defendants, spanning some 657 pages, has been slammed as lacking evidence. It is not merely critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—who is believed to have some sort of vendetta against Kavala—and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) that have criticized the indictment: other skeptics include even AKP deputy Mustafa Yeneroğlu, who tweeted in June that he read the indictment and found not a single piece of evidence that showed Kavala had attempted to overthrow the government or finance the Gezi Park protests.
As chair of the Anadolu Kültür foundation, Kavala has been involved in a variety of civil society initiatives that have supported artistic and cultural activities throughout Turkey in addition to their work helping to create a solution to the Kurdish issue and a rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey, which have not had diplomatic ties since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Coming from a family of businesspeople, Kavala has focused solely on philanthropy and civil society efforts for the past two decades.
Kavala is the most prominent political prisoner currently held behind bars in Turkey, and numerous attendees of this year’s Istanbul bienniale wore t-shirts in support of the jailed civil society leader. Prominent human rights groups and activists from Turkey and abroad have repeatedly demanded Kavala’s release.
“The decision to keep Osman Kavala in pre-trial detention is outrageous but not surprising. It exposes yet again how Turkey’s judicial system has been weaponised in order to target legitimate civil society activities and jail people without a shred of evidence,” said Amnesty International’s Andrew Gardner in a statement in July.
This year, the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) awarded Kavala the 21st European Archaeological Heritage Prize “in recognition of his dedicated and untiring promotion of knowledge, protection and preservation of endangered cultural heritage in Turkey.” The EAA noted that “he has been held in prison since October 2017 without conviction of any crime.” It emphasized Kavala’s efforts to deepen ties between Turkey and Armenia despite the lack of relations between the two countries, and mentioned his extensive efforts in supporting the cultural heritage of Turkey’s minority groups.