Imagine host Guy A. Lepage was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for wearing a red square and criticizing the government’s stance during the maple spring of 2012.
Posted at 8:00am
Unthinkable, you say? Convert this scenario to Turkey.
On Monday, businessman, philanthropist and progressive activist Osman Kavala received the harshest possible sentence in Turkey’s penal code since the country abolished the death penalty. Despite the lack of evidence against him and the disagreement of one of the three magistrates hearing the case, the Istanbul court found him guilty of “attempting to overthrow the government” and sentenced him to life in prison without parole.
He is accused of fueling and supporting protests in Gezi Park in 2013. This move – resembling a maple well – sought to abort the construction of a shopping center in the heart of Istanbul. Severely suppressed by the authorities, the movement spread across the country and revealed to the world the authoritarian nature of the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
At the time, Osman Kavala, known since the 1980s for his fight for human rights and democracy, denounced the government’s repressive methods.
The heir to a large family business denied all charges that he financed the protests, saying his material involvement was limited to bringing “pastries and masks” to some protesters. “The life sentence is an attempted assault on me that cannot be explained on legal grounds,” he told judges on Monday.
Affiliated in France, where he found refuge, his friend Ahmet Insel just can not believe the absurdity of the situation. “When Osman was arrested in 2017, he was accused of organizing the Gezi events. In 2020, he was acquitted of this charge, but on the day of the acquittal, he was charged with espionage and returned to prison. On Monday, the court acquitted him of espionage, but convicted him of the crime of which he was acquitted two years ago,” sums up the professor at Galatasaray University, who has worked with Osman Kavala since the 1970s.
The court also sentenced seven other co-defendants to 18 years in prison. Among them we find an architect, a documentary maker, university professors. The latter were not behind bars at the time of the conviction, but were imprisoned immediately after their conviction. It was in tears and cries of protest that it all happened.
According to all of France, Ahmet Insel, who is also the target of the case, sees only one explanation. Justice does the dirty work of the Turkish president. “It is a blow from Erdoğan to say: ‘If you move to Turkey to defend civil society, I can do this,’ says the author of several books on Turkish politics.
He recalls that Osman Kavala’s legal troubles began after Erdoğan delivered a speech accusing him of being the representative in Turkey of George Soros, a Hungarian-American billionaire who supports several pro-democracy organizations. George Soros is Vladimir Putin’s hobbyhorse. Osman Kavala, that of the Turkish president.
Ahmet Insel is far from alone in thinking that the sentences of his friend and his co-defendants breathe political manipulation and abuse of power.
In 2019, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Turkey to release Mr Kavala. It ruled that there was no evidence against him and that the proceedings were deeply flawed. Turkey did not move.
Last October, a group of Western ambassadors, including those from Canada and the United States, wrote to the Turkish president demanding the immediate release of Mr Kavala. The Turkish president then declared them “persona non grata” in the country, before softening the tone.
On Monday, a chorus of international voices rose to denounce the convictions. Again, the Turkish president did not back down and told all these beautiful people to mind their own business. And this, even if Turkey risks being expelled from the Council of Europe.
As Russia prepared before withdrawing from the organization in March.
Aside from the absurdity of the legal process, Osman Kavala’s story would be of concern for another reason. As in Russia, where Vladimir Putin has been writing a science fiction story for eight years in which he is the liberator of Ukraine under the leadership of drug-addicted Nazis employed by the West, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also feeds a ridiculous story.
According to the Turkish president, his country is the target of attacks by occult forces who want to break his economy and impose their rules. It is in this logic that the trial of Osman Kavala fits. Or the incarceration of thousands of people, all accused of a role in the failed coup d’état in the summer of 2016.
The problem with this kind of political fiction, we learn in Ukraine today, is that it can go far. Very far.