22nd Feb 2024


Osman Kavala in a Turkish jail - taking injustice personally

  • Four years behind bars in the absence of a criminal conviction, facing charges without any evidential basis, Osman Kavala's release is long overdue (Photo: Council of Europe)
Listen to article

At its London headquarters, Amnesty International has a large sign emblazoned in a hallway encouraging you to 'Take Injustice Personally'.

In Europe, there is a prominent victim of injustice whose case I take quite personally. It seems that Turkey's leaders do as well and to prove it, they and have gone to such absurd lengths to keep him behind bars.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • At its London headquarters, Amnesty International has a large sign emblazoned in a hallway encouraging you to 'Take Injustice Personally' (Photo: The Dots/Amnesty International)

That victim is philanthropist Osman Kavala, one of Turkey's most well-known human rights defenders, who has been unjustly imprisoned for more than four years.

I regularly met with Kavala not only in my office in Strasbourg, the seat of the Council of Europe, of which Turkey is a member state, but also during regular visits to Turkey.

As a prominent figure in Turkey's civil society and his obvious vast knowledge of its diversity and history, it was always enlightening to speak with him.

While Kavala's opinion on human rights developments was often sought out by people trying to understand Turkey, he was also a pillar of Turkish civil society, giving many non-governmental organisations his philanthropic support.

Kavala was also a founder of the Turkish School of Political Studies, which is a member of an association of 21 democracy academies affiliated with the Council of Europe. I happen to be this association's president.

I am often asked: why Kavala? Why has he been singled out with one baseless accusation after another?

It is for the authorities to answer this question. What we can speak about are the facts and they point at a determination to punish him by holding him behind bars for as long as possible, and thus sending a chilling message to the rest of society: we can keep him and you imprisoned for years even without a guilty verdict.

Since November 2017 Kavala has faced one fantastical accusation after another: organising and financing the Gezi protests – mass demonstrations in 2013 against an urban development project.

When a court acquitted him of that charge in 2020, he was immediately rearrested for allegedly being behind the 2016 failed coup attempt, a charge that was soon replaced by "military and political espionage" to keep him in prison.

Over the summer, in a sequence of events that would be unbelievable in a fiction, the three charges he faces were joined in one prosecution with 51 others including 35 football supporters whose acquittals five years ago in a case that everyone has forgotten, was also conveniently overturned earlier this year.

'Show me the man, I will find the crime'

The form of justice encapsulated in Kavala's prosecution is reminiscent of the famous line: 'show me the man, I will find the crime'. Indeed, Turkey's leaders have found their man and keep trying to find a crime to pin on him.

Only last week, the European Court of Human Rights condemned Turkey in a case involving 427 judges and prosecutors finding their right to liberty and security had been violated when they were detained in the aftermath of the 2016 coup attempt.

It is not only me who finds the charges against him absurd.

The European Court of Human Rights, whose rulings Turkey has accepted as binding, has issued a judgement calling for Kavala's immediate release, as it found his detention to pursue an "ulterior purpose" – to silence him. The committee of ministers – the body composed of foreign affairs ministers' deputies charged with enforcing judgments – has already called seven times for Kavala's release.

This week as they meet again, these same member states can show they mean business by ratcheting up the pressure on Turkey.

Stubbornly refusing, as Turkey has done, to honour its obligations and implement a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights could – and should - lead being subjected to infringement proceedings – that is, resending the judgment back to the European Court to assert refusal to comply with the binding judgment.

This has only been done once before in the history of the Court, in the case of Ilgar Mammadov vs. Azerbaijan. Then, these proceedings, along with other measures, ultimately led to Mammadov's release.

Four years behind bars in the absence of a criminal conviction, facing charges without any evidential basis, Kavala's release is long overdue.

Representatives of the other 46 Council of Europe member states should nudge Turkey to do the right thing by insisting that human rights are a common responsibility, that Turkey must abide by its obligations, and that Turkey cannot disregard the rules any longer. The friends of human rights in Turkey must vote for infringement proceedings, as abstaining in the vote this week means voting in favour of letting Turkey off the hook.

Let us watch where the conscience of Europe stands. Will they take Kavala's rights personally?

Author bio

Nil Muižnieks is Amnesty International's Europe director and served as the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights between 2012 and 2018.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Turkey formally exits treaty against gender violence

EU states Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia have not ratified the Istanbul Convention on women's rights, while Poland is on course to follow Turkey out of the accord.

Erdoğan orders out US and EU ambassadors

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has ordered out the ambassadors of his top Nato allies and Western investors, in what his opponents called a reckless political stunt.

Cyprus' Varosha is Erdoğan's canary in the coalmine

Last month, president Ersin Tatar of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, unrecognised outside of Turkey, announced the second phase of reopening the derelict tourist district of Varosha in the city of Famagusta.

Ukraine refugees want to return home — but how?

Fewer than one-in-ten Ukrainian refugees intend to settle permanently outside Ukraine, according to new research by the associate director of research and the director of gender and economic inclusion at the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development.

EU-Israel trade agreement must be on table to stop Rafah attack

The EU-Israel association trade agreement enabled €46.8bn of trade last year. Exports rose for both parties by around 20 percent in 2022. As the bloc's foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said: "Yes, we have the capacity to influence [Israel]."

Latest News

  1. EU auditors: rule-of-law budget protections only partial success
  2. EU's €723bn Covid recovery fund saw growth, but doubts remain
  3. Von der Leyen rejects extremist parties, leaves door open to ECR
  4. Russian oligarchs failed to get off EU blacklist
  5. Podcast: Navalny, Ian Bremmer and "more Europe"
  6. Only Palestinians paying thousands of dollars leave Gaza
  7. Ukraine refugees want to return home — but how?
  8. African leaders unveil continent-wide plan to buy medicines

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us