Gezi Protests Case Back to Square One: Kavala Likens His Imprisonment to a “Flag Race”

As the acquittal of nine defendants in the Gezi Park Case was overturned by a court of appeal, a retrial has begun at Istanbul's 30th High Criminal Court. In the first hearing, the panel of judges voted by majority to remand Osman Kavala in prison. Kavala likened his ongoing imprisonment despite an ECtHR ruling to Arthur Miller's famous play "The Crucible," penned during the McCarthy era.

“The charges change continuously, yet the different judges and courts continue my imprisonment, much like athletes passing the flag in relay races,” long-imprisoned civil society leader and philanthropist Osman Kavala told a local Istanbul Court, referring to his 1298 days in jail under the recurring Gezi Protests Case trials. 

Istanbul 30th High Criminal Court had previously acquitted nine defendants including Osman Kavala and removed seven defendants from the file; however, this ruling was later overturned by Istanbul Regional Court’s 3. Criminal Chamber, acting as the court of appeal. Upon this decision, the case has resumed. 

Osman Kavala attended the hearing via the Audio and Video Information System (SEGBİS) from the Silivri Closed Prison where he is held. The other defendants Mücella Yapıcı, Tayfun Kahraman, Can Atalay, and numerous lawyers attended the hearing. 

Owing to the pandemic, only a limited number of journalists and spectators were allowed into the courtroom, and the hearing began with the reading out loud of the court of appeal’s decision to overturn the previous ruling. 

The first defendant to take the floor was Mücella Yapıcı, Secretary of the Environmental Impact Assessment Advisory Board at the Istanbul Chamber of Architects, who reminded the court that she had already been acquitted in two previous trials concerning the Gezi Park protests and requested another acquittal. 

Afterwards, lawyer Can Atalay took the floor and reminded the president of the court his words “I have to comply with the court of appeal’s decision” pronounced at the beginning of the hearing. Atalay indicated, “You do have to comply with the said decision, but owing to the principle of freedom after the reversal decision, you should once again reach a verdict of acquittal.” 

Atalay reminded the court of the Court of Cassation 16. Criminal Chamber’s decision to overturn the acquittal of 35 members of the football fan group Beşiktaş Çarşı, charged with attempting to overthrow the government during the Gezi Park protests. Atalay said, “As such, the Court of Cassation is trying to fit everything under the sky into a single case”. 

Tayfun Kahraman from the group Gezi Solidarity stated in his defense that claims in the file did not have any sound legal basis. 

It was then the turn of Osman Kavala, who stated that the court of appeal had overturned the previous ruling so as to consolidate different cases. Kavala said, “Without any concrete evidence, it is alleged that I and the other defendants here set up a secret organization to overthrow the government. If this case is combined with the case against the Çarşı group, it will be all too evident that these charges are politically motivated. The Court of Cassation overturned the previous ruling to consolidate these different cases. The consolidation of the cases will be an attempt to revive a scenario, forged eight years ago to influence the public opinion, which had lost all credibility with the acquittal verdicts issued by district courts.” 

“The charges change continuously, yet the different judges and courts continue my imprisonment, much like athletes passing the flag in relay races,” said Kavala.

Referring to the play “The Crucible” penned by Arthur Miller during the McCarthy era, Kavala remarked, “The prosecutor who has drafted the indictment knows all too well and even admits that there is no evidence for the charge of espionage, which has been apparently forged to bypass the verdict by ECtHR. 

Following Kavala’s words, the panel of judges adjourned the hearing before announcing their interim decision. After a two-hour break, the panel of judges announced an interim decision, ruling for the continued imprisonment of Osman Kavala. The said decision was reached by a majority of votes. President of the Court Sercan Karagöz opposed the said decision, attaching an annotation favorable to Kavala’s release.

The panel of judges will also examine the case file concerning 35 members of Beşiktaş Çarşı group, whose acquittal was overturned by the Court of Cassation’s 16. Criminal Chamber after six years. 

The next hearing will be held on August 6, 2021. 

About the Case 

The court of appeal overturned İstanbul 30. High Criminal Court’s verdict in the Gezi Park Case, requesting a retrial. 

Turkish President and AKP Chairman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan targeted the judges who reached a verdict of acquittal in the Gezi Case, at a group meeting held right after the announcement of the verdict. In reference to Osman Kavala, Erdoğan said, “That person who tried to stage a provocation in the Gezi Park is behind bars, and some tried to acquit him with a sleight of hand.”

Right after Erdoğan’s speech, the Council of Judges and Prosecutors initiated an investigation against the three judges of the Istanbul 30. High Criminal Court.

The prosecutor’s office also filed an objection to the court’s acquittal verdict. In his objection, public prosecutor Edip Şahiner requested that the court reverse the acquittal decision.

On January 22, 2021, Istanbul Regional Court of Justice’s 3. Criminal Chamber (acting as the court of appeal) duly overturned the acquittal verdict by Istanbul 30. High Criminal Court.

Reiterating the charges leveled against the defendants in the indictment, the court of appeal explained its decision with the argument that evidence such as the defendants’ social media posts, press releases and slogans chanted during protests were not duly discussed in the justification section of the verdict.

Who is Standing Trial?

The current defendants are Osman Kavala, Mücella Yapıcı, Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman, Ali Hakan Altınay, Yiğit Aksakoğlu, Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi, Çiğdem Mater Utku and Mine Özerden, who had previously been acquitted, as well as Can Dündar, Mehmet Ali Alabora, Ayşe Pınar Alabora, Gökçe Tüylüoğlu, Handan Meltem Arıkan, Hanzade Hikmet Germiyanoğlu and İnanç Ekmekçi, who are now abroad, and whose files were initially separated but later reunited with the case. 

Although Osman Kavala was acquitted during the case, he has been kept in Silivri Prison for 1298 days. Yiğit Aksakoğlu was also imprisoned for 220 days in this period.