Gezi Park Trial
On 16 July 2019 an access block was imposed on the "geziyisavunuyoruz.org" (“We Defend Gezi” in English) website, that was created to inform the public about the ongoing Gezi trial and contained photographs and videos of the Gezi protests, a summary of the indictment, court statements by defendants, illustrations from inside the courtroom, as well as a schedule of buses to the courthouse.
The second hearing in the trial of 16 human rights defenders who are accused of financing and organising the Gezi Park protests in 2013 in an “attempt to overthrow the government” was held on 18 July 2019 in İstanbul. If convicted, the HRDs face a possible sentence of life in prison without parole.
The indicted human rights defenders are; Osman Kavala, Yiğit Aksakoğlu, Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi, Çiğdem Mater Utku, Ali Hakan Altınay, Mine Özerden, Tayfun Kahraman, Şerafettin Can Atalay, Ayşe Mücella Yapıcı, Gökçe (Yılmaz) Tüylüoğlu, Hanzade Hikmet Germiyanoğlu, İnanç Ekmekçi, Can Dündar, Memet Ali Alabora, Ayşe Pınar Alabora, and Handan Meltem Arıkan.
On 16 July 2019 an access block was imposed on the "geziyisavunuyoruz.org" (“We Defend Gezi” in English) website by the Ankara 3rd Penal Judgeship of Peace. The website was established to inform the public about the ongoing Gezi trial and contained photographs and videos of the Gezi protests, a summary of the indictment, court statements by defendants, illustrations from inside the courtroom, as well as a schedule of buses to the courthouse.
The second hearing in the trial of 16 human rights defenders who are accused of financing and organising the Gezi Park protests in 2013 in an “attempt to overthrow the government” was held on 18 July 2019 before the İstanbul 30th Heavy Penal Court (Silivri). If convicted, the human rights defenders face a possible sentence of life in prison without parole. The defence attorneys completed their statements in the hearing.
In its interim decision, the Court ruled for the continuation of the detention of Osman Kavala, who has been in prison for 626 days.
The next hearing will be held on 8 and 9 October 2019.
The first hearing in the trial of 16 human rights defenders who are accused of financing and organizing the Gezi Park protests in 2013 in an attempt to overthrow the government was held on 24 and 25 June 2019. If convicted, the human rights defenders face a possible sentence of life in prison without parole. Two of the defendants, Osman Kavala and Yiğit Aksakoğlu were arbitrarily arrested in November 2017 and November 2018 respectively and have been awaiting trial since then. While the Court ruled that Yiğit Aksakoğlu be released on probation with an international travel ban, Osman Kavala remains in detention. The next hearing will be held on 18 and 19 July 2019.
The indicted human rights defenders are; Osman Kavala, businessman and philanthropist, the chairman of the board of directors of Anadolu Kültür and founder or advisory board member of many civil society organisations including History Foundation, TEMA and TESEV; Yiğit Aksakoğlu, Turkey representative of the Bernard van Leer Foundation, a Dutch philanthropic organization focusing on early child development projects, and former worker at İstanbul Bilgi University NGO Training and Research Unit; Yiğit Ali Ekmekci, deputy chair of Anadolu Kültür, executive board member of Terakki Foundation Schools and a founding member of many educational institutions, including the Nesin Foundation and İstanbul Bilgi University; Çiğdem Mater Utku, film producer, journalist and one of the consultants of Anadolu Kültür; Ali Hakan Altınay, executive board member of Anadolu Kültür, director of Boğaziçi European School of Politics in Istanbul and founding member and chair of Global Civics Academy; Mine Özerden, advertiser, civil society activist, film-maker, co-director, the secretary general of Taksim Platform and former worker at Anadolu Kültür; Tayfun Kahraman, academic, urban planner, member of Taksim Solidarity and member and executive board chair of TMMOB Chamber of Urban Planners İstanbul Office; Şerafettin Can Atalay, lawyer of TMMOB, member of Taksim Solidarity, executive board member of Social Rights Association; Ayşe Mücella Yapıcı, architect, member of Taksim Solidarity, the secretary general of Environmental Impact Assessment Department of the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects; Gökçe (Yılmaz) Tüylüoğlu, Open Society Foundations Turkey representative; Hanzade Hikmet Germiyanoğlu, education consultant and coordinator of Civil Society Development Center (STGM); İnanç Ekmekçi, civil society professional working at many civil society organisations on children’s rights, refugee’s rights, women’s human rights and ecology; Can Dündar, journalist and former editor of Cumhuriyet newspaper; Memet Ali Alabora, actor and former president of Actor/Actress Union; Ayşe Pınar Alabora, actress; Handan Meltem Arıkan, a novelist and playwright.
Although there were several prosecutions in 2015 following the protests, all cases against individuals and organisations concerning the Gezi protests ended in acquittals in 2015. Yet, in the past two years, the Turkish authorities re-opened the criminal investigation and resumed prosecution of the alleged organisers of the 2013 Gezi Park Protests.
As part of those operations, on 18 October 2017, Osman Kavala was taken into custody at Istanbul’s Atatürk International Airport and was arrested on 1 November 2017 both for his involvement in the Gezi protests as well as his “unnaturally close contact” with foreign persons, who the Turkish authorities accuse of being behind the attempted coup on 15 July 2016. On 16 November 2018, 13 human rights defenders were taken into custody “for their activities in a hierarchical structure led by Osman Kavala”, according to the information note provided by the police department. Twelve were promptly released, but Yiğit Aksakoğlu remained in custody and was subsequently arrested.
On 4 March 2019, Istanbul 30th Heavy Penal Court approved the 657-page indictment submitted by the prosecutor’s office, which accuses the 16 human rights defenders of financing and organising the Gezi protests. The indictment was filed on the last day of the response period that European Court of Human Rights had provided to the government of Turkey after an application by the legal representatives of Osman Kavala. The indictment argues that the Gezi protests were not a largely spontaneous wave of anti-government protests, but the outcome of a planned conspiracy, which was designed by the philanthropist George Soros, founder of Open Society Foundations, and led by Osman Kavala and a small group of people indicted with him, in order to destabilize Turkey and overthrow the government. Evidence presented in the indictment consists of hundreds of intercepted telephone calls between the defendants during and after the Gezi protests, details of their international travels, their social media posts, and some surveillance camera photographs. The defendants face a possible life sentence without parole, on the charge of “attempting, by use of force and violence, to abolish the government, or prevent it from fulfilling its duties” without any concrete evidence. In addition to the main charge, the indictment also holds them responsible for crimes allegedly committed during the protests across Turkey, and thus they face additional charges of “damaging public property”, “damaging a place of worship or cemetery”, “unlawful possession of dangerous substances”, “unlawful possession of weapons”, “looting” and “serious injury”.
On 24 and 25 June 2019, the first hearing of the case held at İstanbul 30th Heavy Penal Court in Silivri, Osman Kavala Yiğit Aksakoğlu, Mücella Yapıcı, Ali Hakan Altınay, Mine Özerden, Çiğdem Mater Utku, Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman and Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi made their defence statements. The remaining defendants were not present at the hearing. Currently there are arrest warrants issued against İnanç Ekmekçi, Memet Ali Alabora, Ayşe Pınar Alabora, Handan Meltem Arıkan, Can Dündar, Gökçe (Yılmaz) Tüylüoğlu and Hanzade Hikmet Germiyanoğlu. In the 24 and 25 June hearing, both the judges and the lawyers agreed on hearing only the statements of the legal representatives of the two imprisoned defendants, considering the possibility of an interim decision for the release. The lawyers of the other defendants will make their statements at the next hearing. Osman Kavala and Yiğit Aksakoğlu were arbitrarily detained in Silivri prison since November 2017 and November 2018. While the Court ruled that Yiğit Aksakoğlu be released on probation with an international travel ban, Osman Kavala remains imprisoned. The next hearing is scheduled to be held on 18 and 19 July 2019.
During the first hearing, both the defendants and their lawyers drew attention to the lack of evidence and manifestly illegal arguments in the indictment.
Firstly, the indictment itself was prepared based on an investigation carried out in 2013 by a prosecutor who is currently a fugitive and on the results of telephone tapping ordered by a senior police officer. Both the prosecutor and the police officer are currently charged in relation to their alleged involvement with a movement described by the Turkish government as “FETÖ/PYD” (Fetullah Gülen Terrorist Organisation). The authorities accuse the movement of using its members in the police and the judiciary to initiate sham trials against its adversaries by using illegal or fake evidence and trumped-up charges. The judges who ordered the telephone tapping of the defendants are also charged with involvement in “FETÖ/PYD". The indictment opens with an explanation of this issue and argues that the evidence collected by the accused prosecutors and judges have been “valued”, which is not a legal term in the Turkish Criminal Code. The indictment does not explain how the illegally collected evidence and the indictment prepared with trumped-up charges were “valued”.
Secondly, the indictment contains explicit errors in facts, and fails to make any effort to establish a link between the allegations and the facts. For example, the indictment includes no evidence of meetings, phone calls, or other actions of a conspiracy made in advance of Gezi. Most of the "evidence" collected dates to either during or after the Gezi protests, with the exception of some details on international travel. The telephone calls mostly consist of random conversations, with only some of them relating to the Gezi protests. There are numerous errors in dates, in the activities allegedly carried out by the defendants, and even in the names of the organisations/platforms that they were involved. Evidence presented in the indictment includes a television station that never broadcast and a film that was never made. Furthermore, the indictment contains no evidence of financial support provided to organize the Gezi protests. The Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) reports do not identify any payments that might be evidence of money provided to organize the protests or even for unidentified purposes. The closest evidence provided to support this is the grants provided to projects conducted by civil society organisations and intercepted telephone calls from Osman Kavala talking about lending a plastic folding table or sending food to Gezi Park.
Thirdly, the lawyers during the hearing drew attention to the fact that the crime of “attempting to abolish the government, or prevent it from fulfilling its duties” can be only committed “with the use of force and violence” according to the relevant Article in the Turkish Criminal Code. However, while the indictment presents no evidence that the human rights defenders incited the use of force and violence, it lists “non-violent acts and persuasion methods” that were used during the protests, portraying them as illegal activities that seem “innocent” at first glance. For example, the human rights defenders are accused of bringing professional protestors, trainers and facilitators from abroad to focus on issues like “civil disobedience” and “peaceful protesting” in order to prolong the Gezi Park protests and participating in the creation of new media sources in order to influence public opinion about the existing and future protests. As an effort to establish “the use of force and violence” element, the indictment accuses the defendants of responsibility for some violent acts allegedly committed by protesters in different cities during the protests, by defining them as “indirect perpetrators” of those acts.
While Front Line Defenders welcomes the release of Yiğit Aksakoğlu on probation, it expresses its concern at the criminalisation of human rights defenders over their alleged involvement in peaceful protests, the ongoing detention of Osman Kavala and judicial harassment of the 16 human rights defenders, as it believes that they are solely linked to their legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights. It urges the authorities in Turkey to immediately release Osman Kavala, drop all the charges against the 16 human rights defenders, and guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Turkey are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.