Turkish philanthropist and businessperson Osman Kavala, who was in April sentenced to aggravated life in prison for allegedly attempting to overthrow the government by financing the 2013 nationwide Gezi protests, answered the questions of BBC Turkish through his lawyers.
Kavala touched upon the comments that Turkey was using his imprisonment as a means of gaining concessions from the West. Ruling out that there were any negotiations between Turkey and the West for his release, Kavala said: "Since I am a citizen of the Republic of Turkey, no Western country would enter into a negotiation to free me."
Kavala said that the allegation that U.S. investor George Soros carried out clandestine activities in Turkey is the product of a conspiracy theory and that Soros also met with government officials during his visits to Turkey, the last of which took place in 2015.
Kavala was in April sentenced to aggravated life in prison for allegedly attempting to overthrow the Turkish government by financing the 2013 Gezi protests. The court also sentenced Mücella Yapıcı, Çiğdem Mater, Hakan Altınay, Mine Özerden, Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman and Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi to 18 years in jail for aiding the alleged attempt to overthrow the government.
Kavala was arrested in 2017 on charges that he helped to plan the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Turkey. He was cleared of these charges in February 2020, but was immediately arrested on charges that he orchestrated the July 2016 coup attempt. In 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said Kavala's ongoing imprisonment was political and called on Turkey to free him.
Some parts of Kavala's interview with BBC Turkish are as follows:
First of all, can you tell us a little about your life in prison? How is your day going? What do you do?
I read books, newspapers, and incoming letters which I try to answer. I watch TV, I walk in the courtyard, I take care of the sparrows that have their nests upstairs. For some reason, doing the same things all the time makes one feel that time passes quickly.
Sometimes, I watch programs about art and literature. I read mostly literary works.
What do you think is the reason for the government's interest in the Gezi protests, even though it has been a long time? Why do you think there is an image of 'settling of accounts' with the Gezi protests?
Hundreds of thousands of people participated in the Gezi protests, and although the reasons for their participation varied, it is an accepted reality that the concern about the restriction of freedoms and the reaction to the excessive and unregulated use of force by the security forces led to the widespread use of the protests.
The events after the July 15 coup attempt, especially the presidential system, have increased similar concerns. It seems that oppressive policies will increasingly continue in the process until the elections.
In such an environment, I guess that the fiction that Gezi is an attempt staged by foreign powers to overthrow the government and the judicial decision confirming this will be used to continue the political discourse based on external enemies. I think that the trial is not just about a showdown about the past, but about what will happen in the future.
"Sorosism" has become a mysterious subject in Turkey. In order to leave this mystery behind a little, could you tell us about the work of George Soros and his affiliated organizations in Turkey?
I think that the allegations from the ruling circles that Soros carried out clandestine and destructive activities against the country played an important role in the fact that "Sorosism" has become such a mysterious issue. In the second indictment, in which I was accused of espionage, it was claimed that organizations affiliated with Soros corrupt national cultures by spreading universal culture and thus trying to dominate the world. This obviously brings to mind anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
The only organization in our country that was affiliated with Soros was the Open Society Foundation. It provided support to civil society projects on issues that fully coincided with the democratization programs of the European Union (EU). It also publicly announced how much support it provided to which projects, on its website and in its publications.
During the Justice and Development Party's (AKP) rule, we see that the ruling circles established relations with both George Soros and the organizations associated with him for a while. What are your observations on this relationship? What kind of relationship was this? And when and why do you think the ruling circles became critical of George Soros and his work?
There were negative and accusatory publications about Soros in some media organs close to the government, but when George Soros visited our country, he also met with government officials. I know that the last of these meetings took place in 2015.
The absurd conspiracy theory that Soros was operating against the government, planning and financing the Gezi attempt to overthrow the government is a striking post-truth product indeed. I think, since there is no concrete basis for the discourse that foreign powers are attacking to overthrow the government, an external enemy is created by using the perception of secrecy around Soros and Sorosism is used as a vague accusation to criminalize activities that are not considered crimes.
In Turkey, some commentators claim that you are held 'hostage' as part of the negotiations between the ruling circles and the West. Do you agree with the comment that you are a 'hostage'?
I can be seen as a hostage because my arrest and punishment were done in violation of the law. However, the conclusion of the Gezi trial showed that this process is related to domestic politics. Since I am a citizen of the Republic of Turkey, no Western country would enter into a negotiation to free me.
How do you interpret the violation process of the Council of Europe?
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) was asked to make an assessment as to whether Turkey implemented the ECHR decision or not. I think that the ECHR will make an assessment that the decision was not implemented. However, I cannot predict how the Council of Europe will take a decision on sanctions.
I think that the decision of the ECHR, which identifies the unlawfulness in detail, is important regardless of the sanctions. I believe that this decision will be important for the prosecutors and judges who defend the legal norms in the judiciary. Unfortunately, the Constitutional Court [in Turkey] (AYM) could not fulfill its function regarding my arrest, despite the findings of the head and senior members that there was a clear violation.