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Open Society Foundations Condemn Bogus Turkish Indictments

NEW YORK—The Open Society Foundations condemn in the strongest possible terms Turkey’s decision to bring criminal charges against Gökçe Tüylüoğlu, the former head of our local Turkish foundation, in a move that signals an intensification of its campaign against independent civil society groups.

Tüylüoğlu, who led the Open Society Foundations’ office in Turkey from 2009 to 2018, is one of 16 individuals accused by prosecutors of seeking to stir up protests over the redevelopment of Gezi Park in Istanbul in 2013, supposedly to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan.

The indictment, approved by the prosecution on Monday, March 4, also includes Osman Kavala, a leading business figure, philanthropist, and a board member of the Foundation; and Hakan Altinay, an internationally respected academic who preceded Tüylüoğlu as head of the Foundation. Kavala has been imprisoned without charge since October 2017, while Altinay remains in the country under a travel ban and other restrictions since November last year.

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—one of the few green spaces left in Istanbul—by building a reconstruction of an Ottoman-era military barracks.

The indictment seeks life sentences against all of the accused.

The indictment was approved despite several rulings from Turkey’s Constitutional Court that have affirmed the legality of the Gezi Park protests.

The document, which runs to over 600 pages, accuses Tüylüoğlu and the Open Society Foundations of supporting the protests as part of what it claims—without any credible evidence—was a wide conspiracy to overthrow the Turkish government. The supposed evidence includes a number of grants that the Foundation made to local civil society organizations from when the Foundation was established in 2009.

All the grants cited 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.

In all the cases cited, Open Society’s Turkish foundation only provided a portion of the funding support for the organizations in question; they were also supported by a range of other international and local private foundations and government and multilateral funders.

The indictment contains factually inaccurate assertions about the Foundation’s work, falsely claiming, for instance, that Open Society provided financial support for the Journalists and Writers Foundation, part of the banned Gülen movement.

It also weaves its fabricated charges into an imagined international conspiracy to destabilize the Erdoğan government which draws on repeated lies and misrepresentations of the work and the record of the Open Society Foundations globally. 

“I am appalled by the viciousness of this attack on a distinguished colleague who has devoted her life to the service of her fellow citizens,” said Patrick Gaspard, president of the Open Society Foundations. “We recognize this for what it is—part of a continuing assault on all who have the courage to stand up for justice in Turkey.”

“We will firmly support Gökçe and explore every avenue of the law to protect her and others associated with the Open Society Foundations, and to repudiate this baseless and cowardly attack.”

The Open Society Foundations announced in November last year that it was closing its 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.

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