ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday summoned the ambassadors of the United States and nine other countries to protest a statement they issued that called for the release of imprisoned philanthropist and civil rights activist Osman Kavala in line with a European Court of Human Rights decision. The statement angered government officials who accused the countries of meddling in the Turkish judiciary.
Kavala, 64, has been kept behind bars for four years, accused of attempting to overthrow the Turkish government through the 2013 nationwide demonstrations that started at Istanbul’s Gezi Park. He has also been charged with espionage and attempting to overthrow the government in connection with a failed military coup in 2016.
The Foreign Ministry said the ambassadors were told that “the impertinent statement via social media regarding a legal proceeding conducted by independent judiciary was unacceptable.” Turkey rejects the attempt to “politicize judicial proceedings and put pressure on (the) Turkish judiciary,” it continued.
“Turkey is a democratic country governed by the rule of law that respects human rights, and it was reminded that the Turkish judiciary will not be influenced by such irresponsible statements,” the ministry added.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled for Kavala’s release in December 2019 but Turkish authorities have ignored the ruling.
On Monday, the embassies of the United States as well as Canada, France, Finland, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden said in a statement that delays in Kavala’s trial, the merging of different cases and the opening of a new case despite a previous acquittal “cast a shadow over respect for democracy, the rule of law and transparency.”
“Noting the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights on the matter, we call for Turkey to secure his urgent release,” read their statement which was posted on the U.S. Embassy’s Twitter account on Monday.
Turkish officials called on the embassies to respect the “independence of the Turkish courts.”
“Some countries’ ambassadors who are obliged to show loyalty to the independence of the countries they serve in ... have exceeded their limits and demanded that (politicians) interfere with the judiciary,” said Deputy President Fuat Oktay.
Last month, the 47-member Council of Europe — of which Turkey is a member — said it would start infringement proceedings against Turkey, unless Kavala is released before its next committee of ministers meeting in November. The infringement proceedings could result in punitive measures against Turkey, including its possible suspension from the organization that promotes democracy and human rights.
Kavala is known for his support of the arts and his funding of projects promoting cultural diversity and minority rights. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused him of being the “Turkish leg” of billionaire U.S. philanthropist George Soros, who Erdogan alleges has been behind insurrections in many countries.
Kavala faces a life term in prison without parole if convicted. The businessman has rejected all charges against him while human rights groups have denounced the case against him as being politically motivated.