Kavala demands retrial of Gezi case following pro-gov’t voices signaling such move

Philanthropist Osman Kavala has demanded the retrial of the Gezi Park case in which he has received an aggravated life sentence. His statement came after several pro-government figures signaled the retrial of the case, over which Turkey is in trouble with the Council of Europe. The voices have created a new controversy among the ruling elites.

The Gezi Park case defendants.

Duvar English

Osman Kavala, a prominent Turkish philanthropist and civil society leader, on May 9 demanded the retrial of the Gezi Park case.

In a statement, Kavala said the retrial of cases involving “blatant violations of rights, convictions based on no evidence, and years of imprisonment of innocent people” is a requirement of fundamental principles of law and respect for human rights.

“The decisions of the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights are directly related to the right to demand justice not only for the applicants but for every citizen. Justice is necessary for everyone. Every citizen's life and rights are equally valuable,” he added.

In April 2022, he was sentenced to aggravated life in prison without parole on charges of attempting to overthrow the government during the 2013 Gezi Park protests. 

His statement came after some pro-government columnists and figures signaled the retrial of the case, which created a new controversy among the ruling elites.

Pro-government columnist Abdülkadir Selvi first expressed the possibility of such a move. 

On a April 17- dated Hürriyet column, Selvi said “What does it benefit Turkey that Osman Kavala is in jail, that the Gezi protesters will be imprisoned for years? What does it benefit the AKP? The climate needs to change and spring needs to come. An AKP that returned to its reformist identity and a Turkey that is marching towards the European Union, see how the economy will boom then. The formula is clear; grow the economy, expand freedoms.”

Turkey's top appeals court on Sept. 28 upheld the life sentence for Kavala and an 18-year sentences for Can Atalay, who was elected a member of parliament from Workers' Party of Turkey (TİP) in May, Tayfun Kahraman, Mine Özerden and Çiğdem Mater Utku in the Gezi Park case.

Selvi’s column drew ire by some pro-government and government ally figures. 

The most notable reaction came from Hüseyin Özkan, the social media manager of the government-ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), who said in a social media post, “Selvi is void. He’s a remnant of the sword,” possibly referring to Selvi’s Alevi identity and that he is still alive.

MHP deputy chair İsmail Özdemir said “Turkey will never turn away from its goal of becoming a leading country and a superpower, and will not remain under the guidance of foreign capitals. Those who have a pen with no caliber and empty words should understand this well.”

Selvi reiterated his position, and wrote in his May 2-dated column about some “formulas” that could lead to Gezi prisoners retrial. 

He argued that the PM and the Council of Ministers were the basis for the sentencing in the Gezi case and as they were “allegedly intended to be abolished.” However, both of these bodies were abolished with the 2017 referendum and “there remains a crime without a victim. There is no crime without a victim.”

Moreover, Selvi said some of the reports that Kavala was accused of was prepared by “FETÖ members,” referring to the Gülen movement which Ankara calls the Fethullaist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) and blames for the 2016 jailed coup attempt.

After this column, Ahmet Selim Köroğlu, chief advisor to the President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, joined the debate, and said “President Erdoğan, who was the Prime Minister, the most important government official during the Gezi protests, and who has assumed the executive duty in the new system, is of no importance. Kavala is all that matters (for them).”

MHP Deputy Chair Feti Yıldız accused Selvi of “exerting influence and attempting to influence” the judiciary.

AKP deputy Tuğrul Türkeş, son of MHP’s founder Alparslan Türkeş, also joined the debate and said on May 3 that he “was wondering” why some people were objecting to the retrial.

Is it because of “That Abdülkadir Selvi wrote about the issue? That Osman Kavala is finally likely to be released? That Turkey will be free from unjust accusations in the international arena? That they themselves didn't think of (the retrial)? That the fog is clearing from the gray environment they tried to create? I don't even want to think about it, but is it the possibility of resolving the issue through domestic law?”

Lately, former AKP deputy Mehmet Metiner said in his Yeni Şafak column that If Osman Kavala, Selahattin Demirtaş and the defendants of the Gezi case “were imprisoned for political reasons, this is a great cruelty and injustice.”

“The demand for a 'retrial' is a legitimate legal demand. If there are conditions that require it and the required conditions have been fulfilled, it is wrong to attribute a political meaning to the exercise of this legal right,” he added.

The ECHR ruled in 2019 that Turkey violated multiple articles of the Convention by imprisoning Kavala, and demanded his immediate release.

Following the final sentences in the case, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe initiated infringement proceedings against Turkey. The proceedings could result in Turkey's eventual suspension from the Council of Europe, although it is one of the founding members of the council.