Press release

Turkey: Kavala Trial Underscores Government’s Assault on the Rule of Law

A prominent philanthropist and civic leader has been held in custody on unsubstantiated charges for over three years, and faces an even longer detention because of judicial delays.

In response to an Istanbul court’s decision to postpone the first hearing of the trial of Osman Kavala, a philanthropist and civil society activist, and American scholar Henri J. Barkey, Freedom House issued the following statement: 

“This delay is a tactic on the part of politicized Turkish courts to evade the rule of law,” said Marc Behrendt, Director for Europe and Eurasia Programs at Freedom House. “Osman Kavala has been held in pretrial detention for over three years without any credible evidence of having committed a crime. His case demonstrates the extent to which the government has weaponized the judiciary and stripped away the rule of law in Turkey. Kavala should be immediately released.” 


Prominent philanthropist and civic leader Osman Kavala was first arrested in November 2017 on charges of attempting to overthrow the government through his alleged participation in the 2013 nationwide Gezi Park protests. He was acquitted on February 18, 2020, but was arrested later that day on separate espionage charges related to the 2016 coup attempt. On October 9, an Istanbul prosecutor issued a formal indictment against Kavala and Henri J. Barkey, an American citizen and Lehigh University professor, charging them with committing espionage on behalf of the United States and supporting the coup attempt. While Kavala remains in custody in Turkey, Barkey, who resides in the United States, is being tried in absentia.

Kavala’s new trial was supposed to begin on Friday, December 18. However, the Istanbul 36th High Criminal Court moved to delay the first hearing until February 5, 2021. During this time, Kavala will remain in detention.  

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued a judgment ordering Kavala’s release in December 2019 and rejected a Turkish attempt to refer the matter to its Grand Chamber in May 2020, underscoring the lack of credibility of the charges against him. While Turkey is bound by the European Convention on Human Rights to implement the ruling, the Turkish government has ultimately refused to acknowledge it. 

For its part, the Turkish Constitutional Court was expected to rule on the legality of Kavala’s detention, but apparently referred the matter to another body last week. The US government, the European Union, numerous international human rights organizations, and civil society actors in Turkey have repeatedly called for Kavala’s release.

Turkey is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2020 and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2020.