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Newsroom Press release

Open Society Deplores Turkey’s Failure to Release Osman Kavala

NEW YORK—The Open Society Foundations are deeply disappointed by the continued detention in Turkey of philanthropist and human rights defender Osman Kavala after more than two years behind bars, in defiance of a December 10 ruling from the European Court of Human Rights. 

Kavala and 15 other civil society figures have been on trial since June, on charges linked to the 2013 mass protests against the government that began in Gezi Park in Istanbul. 

A court in Istanbul today rejected an application from Kavala’s lawyers seeking his release.

Patrick Gaspard, president of the Open Society Foundations, said:

“By failing to release Osman as required by the European Court, Turkey is confirming what we always feared—that this is a sham trial, based on a fictional indictment, and motivated by politics not justice.”

The trial, which began in June, is built around a rambling 657-page indictment that claims the 2013 mass protests that began in Istanbul’s Gezi Park were deliberately orchestrated as part of an international plot against Turkey.

“The European Court reviewed the indictment, and found no facts to support the charges,” said Gaspard. “It rightly concluded that the real objective here is to silence and intimidate Kavala and other human rights defenders in Turkey.”

Kavala, a former advisory member of the board of Open Society’s Turkey foundation, has been detained since November 2017. 

The other defendants in the continuing case include Gökçe Tüylüoğlu, the former head of Open Society’s Turkey foundation, and Hakan Altinay, an internationally respected academic who preceded Tüylüoğlu as head of the Open Society’s Istanbul office.

Also on trial is Yiğit Aksakoğlu, the country head of the Bernard van Leer Foundation, a leading global funder of early childhood education and development projects. Aksakoğlu spent seven months in pretrial detention before being released in June.

The list also includes prominent artists, writers, actors, educators, and urban planning experts who spoke out against the government’s plans to redevelop Gezi Park—then one of the few green spaces left in Istanbul—by building a reconstruction of an Ottoman-era military barracks.

The indictment, which seeks life sentences against all of the accused, was approved despite several rulings from Turkey's Constitutional Court that have affirmed the legality of the Gezi Park protests.

The Open Society Foundations announced in November 2018 the closure of the local foundation in Turkey because of the deteriorating political atmosphere. Its grant giving, which totaled around $2 million in 2018, was directed towards a range of issues, including support for Turkey’s candidacy in the European Union, women’s rights and gender equality, and providing support for refugees and Turkish host communities.

All the foundation’s grants were fully reported to the relevant Turkish authorities as required by law. The financial operations of the foundation also underwent annual auditing, as required by Turkish law, without any objections being raised.

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