Turkey’s top appeals court upholds sentences for five defendants in Gezi Park trial including MP Atalay

Turkey’s Court of Cassation upheld the sentences of five defendants in the Gezi Park trial, including lawmaker Can Atalay and philanthropist Osman Kavala. Mücella Yapıcı's sentence was overturned and she was released after the verdict.

Mücella Yapıcı and Can Atalay (the center two figures) during a trial.

Duvar English & Reuters

Turkey's top appeals court on Sept. 28 upheld the life sentence for Kavala and an 18-year sentence 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 trial.

The Court of Cassation overturned 18-year sentences for Mücella Yapıcı, Hakan Altınay, and Yiğit Ekmekçi.

Kavala, 65, was sentenced to life in prison without parole in April 2022, while seven others in the case received 18 years based on claims they organized and financed nationwide protests in 2013. 

The defendants were charged with "attempting to overthrow the government of the Republic of Turkey.”

At the time, the verdict was seen as symbolic of a crackdown on dissent under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the punishment of the government's perceived foes through the judiciary. All have denied the charges, saying the protests developed spontaneously.

The ruling effectively marks the end of the appeals process for Kavala, who has been in detention since 2017. Turkey's Constitutional Court previously rejected his appeal too.

In the justification of the high court’s decision, it was stated that "the defendants' actions were carried out within the scope of the initiation of the Gezi Park incidents, which were carried out within a plan and organization, and within the scope of the deepening of the protests by spreading all over the country.”

The court also stated that the defendants whose sentences were overturned should be evaluated within the scope of "opposition to the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations" and not for the offense charged.

Yapıcı made a statement to journalists while leaving the prison and said, "None of us had a single offense. I do not understand what kind of justice this is. I left my dear friends here. We need to get our friends out as soon as possible. This country does not deserve such injustice."

TİP chair Erkan Baş stated, "I do not accept the judicial coup against the freedom of our working people, including our Hatay deputy Atalay and all the Gezi prisoners." He announced that they will start a protest march from Hatay, Atalay's constituency, to capital Ankara on Oct. 1.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu shared a post on his social media account after the verdict and said “The Court of Cassation has shared the shame of making the Gezi Park Resistance, which is a struggle for democracy, a "crime" by order. It should not be forgotten that the Gezi resistance is the loud voice of young people shouting for freedom in the history of democracy. No power can silence this voice! This decision is a great shame!"

Hundreds of thousands marched in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey in 2013 as demonstrations against plans to build replica Ottoman barracks in the city's Gezi Park grew into nationwide protests against Erdoğan's government.

Erdoğan has equated the protesters to terrorists, and has personally accused Kavala numerous times of being the financier of the protests.

Ankara's Western allies, opposition members, and rights groups say Turkish courts are under the control of the government. Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) say they are independent.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Turkey must free Kavala and others for violations of their rights. Turkey has not taken any action and now faces possible suspension from the Council of Europe.