Open Society Foundations President Denounces “Political” Trial in Turkey
NEW YORK—Patrick Gaspard, president of the Open Society Foundations, has denounced as a political sham the trial in Turkey of 16 civil society figures over the 2013 Gezi Park protests that swept the country six years ago.
“The charges in this case follow a political script that seeks to silence all critical voices in Turkey,” Gaspard said. “Yet the 16 defendants are people who want the best for their country—in different ways, they have worked to make Turkey a better place for all its citizens. That they are now on trial, facing possible life sentences, is a tragedy.”
The trial, which opens on Monday, June 24, at the Silvestri prison complex outside Istanbul, is built around a rambling 657-page indictment that claims the mass protests that began in Istanbul’s Gezi Park were deliberately orchestrated as part of an international plot against Turkey.
Those charged include Gökçe Tüylüoğlu, the former head of Open Society’s Turkey foundation, as well as Osman Kavala, a leading business figure and philanthropist, and Hakan Altinay, an internationally respected academic who preceded Tüylüoğlu as head of the Open Society’s Istanbul office.
Kavala has been imprisoned without charge since October 2017. Altinay remains in the country under a travel ban and other restrictions since November last year.
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 has been held in pretrial detention 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—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.
“I urge the Turkish authorities to drop these bogus charges, and immediately release Osman Kavala and Yiğit Aksakoğlu,” said Gaspard.
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.
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.
The Open Society Foundations in Turkey
Since 2001, the Open Society Foundations have invested over $35 million in projects in Turkey, working with both independent civil society groups and with government agencies.
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