By Ali Kucukgocmen
ISTANBUL -A Turkish court ruled on Friday that philanthropist Osman Kavala must stay in prison, extending his four-year detention without conviction in a trial which has further strained difficult relations between Ankara and its Western allies.
The trial has been criticised as politically motivated and symbolic of a crackdown on dissent under President Tayyip Erdogan. The government rejects this and says Turkey’s courts are independent.
Last month Erdogan threatened to expel the ambassadors of 10 countries, including the United States, Germany and France, after they echoed a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling that Kavala should be freed.
The prospect of further deterioration in Western ties added at the time to pressure on the Turkish lira, which has hit new record lows since September due mostly to interest rate cuts. The currency dipped slightly after Friday’s ruling.
The court ruled by a majority of votes to keep Kavala in jail for the duration of his trial. It set the next hearing for Jan. 17, adding it would evaluate his imprisonment on Dec. 23.
Kavala, who has been attending hearings via video link, did not participate in Friday’s hearing.
His wife, opposition lawmakers, and diplomats from some of the 10 embassies involved in the row were in the packed courtroom in Istanbul. The square outside the courthouse was packed with dozens of riot police and water cannon vehicles.
Deniz Tolga Aytore, Kavala’s lawyer, said he supported his client’s decision not to join the hearings, saying his right to a fair trial was being violated.
“We are being tried in political parties’ group meetings, and judicial officials are not doing anything about this. Therefore our right to a fair trial is being violated,” he said, referring to parties’ parliamentary groups.
Kavala was acquitted last year of charges related to nationwide protests in 2013 focused on Istanbul’s Gezi Park, but the ruling was overturned this year and combined with charges in another case related to a coup attempt in 2016. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Aytore said Kavala’s requests to be freed had been denied over charges related to the 2013 protests, while his arrest was based on espionage charges related to the 2016 coup attempt.
He also listed inconsistencies in the allegations with reports by officials that refute the claims in the indictment.
Kavala, 64, is on trial with 51 others in a combination of three separate cases over the 2013 protests and the 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan and his government.
The ECHR called for Kavala’s release in late 2019 over a lack of reasonable suspicion that he committed an offence, ruling that his detention served to silence him.
The Council of Europe has said it will begin infringement proceedings against Turkey if Kavala is not released. This could eventually lead to Turkey being expelled from the body.
Some European Union officials have said any deepening of economic ties with Ankara, including updating their customs union, is dependent on progress on human rights and the rule of law in Turkey.