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Turkish philanthropist Kavala jailed for life, activists protest


Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala was jailed for life without parole on Monday after he was convicted of trying to overthrow the government by financing protests, in a case that Europe's top court and Western powers say is politically motivated.

Kavala, 64, has been in jail for 4-1/2 years without a conviction and denies the charges he faced over the Gezi protests, which began as small demonstrations in an Istanbul park in 2013 and snowballed into nationwide anti-government unrest.

The court also sentenced seven others to 18 years in jail each for aiding an attempt to overthrow government and ordered their arrests. The court said it decided to acquit Kavala of espionage charges due to lack of evidence.

The courtroom was packed with more than 200 people, including opposition members and rights activists, many of whom yelled and screaming slogans at the panel of judges in protest.

In his last words before the verdict, Kavala said the prosecutor's request for a life sentence was based on "evidence that is not evidence" and amounted to "an act of assassination by use of the judiciary".

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The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and activists have said the case is politically motivated and part of a crackdown on dissent under President Tayyip Erdogan – accusations the government dismisses.

The ECHR called for Kavala's release in late 2019 and ruled his detention was meant to silence the philanthropist, whose civil society projects aimed to foster social change.

Ankara now faces being suspended from the Council of Europe rights watchdog, after "infringement proceedings" were launched due to his continued detention.

Embassies of Turkey's Western allies, including the United States and Germany, echoed the call for Kavala's release last year, prompting threats by Erdogan to expel their ambassadors.

Erdogan has likened the Gezi protesters to Kurdish militants and those accused of orchestrating a failed 2016 coup. He has not attacked Kavala personally, but said Western allies would not release "bandits, murderers and terrorists" in their countries.

Kavala was acquitted in 2020 of charges related to the Gezi protests. Hours later another court ordered his arrest on a charge of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order related to the coup attempt.


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