Human Rights
Prisoner of Conscience: Osman Kavala, Turkey

Osman Kavala, Turkey, Prisoners of Conscience
©  Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom

Osman Kavala is a prominent Turkish entrepreneur and philanthropist. Since his arrest in 2017 he has additionally become one of Turkey’s most prominent political prisoners.

He took over the family business, Kavala Group, after the death of his father in the 1980s. He co-founded the Iletisim Publishing Company, which gave a platform to democratic voices in the country at a time when it was experiencing another period of repression after the military coup in 1980. Kavala also set up a number of civil organizations, which promote ethnic diversity and human rights causes. One of them is Anadolu Kultur, a non-profit organisation that supports art and culture projects. In the aftermath of the 1999 earthquake, which killed tens of thousands of people, Kavala aided disaster relief efforts by building temporary housing.

In 2017 Kavala was arrested and accused of “attempting to overthrow the government” and “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order”. In February 2020 a Turkish court acquitted him on the former charges for his alleged involvement in the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul. Before he could walk free, however, just hours after his release, he was re-arrested and charged for his alleged role in the attempted coup in 2016. The failed uprising triggered a massive crackdown on political opponents, media, judges, academics, and anyone with links with Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen who Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan sees as the mastermind behind the failed operation.

In March 2020 a Turkish court acquitted Kavala on charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” but the businessman was kept in custody on the charge of “political or military espionage”. While Kavala was never convicted of a crime, on December 18 another court ruled to keep the philanthropist in remand. Moreover, he is held behind bars despite a decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, ECHR. In December 2019 the judges ruled that Kavala’s detention is based on political motives and ordered Turkish authorities to free him. The court also stated that his arrest “pursued an ulterior purpose” of “reducing Mr Kavala, and with him all human-rights defenders, to silence”.

Since Kavala’s detention, a  number of international human rights organizations and governments called for his release.

“We call upon Turkey to comply with its own commitment to justice and rule of law and to release Osman Kavala from detention, while pursuing a just, transparent, and speedy resolution to his case,” reads a statement in support of the Turkish businessman issued by the US State Department.

In December the Council of Europe issued an interim resolution, demanding his immediate release and urging Turkish authorities to ensure that Turkey’s Constitutional Court hears Kavala’s case without any further delay.

Rights organization Amnesty International also urged Turkey to end his detention right away. “Almost a year to the day after the European Court for Human Rights issued a binding judgment finding that the detention of Osman Kavala is politically motivated, today’s resolution demanding his immediate release sends a clear message to the Turkish authorities that his continued imprisonment cannot and will not be tolerated,” said in a statement Nils Muiznieks, the organization’s Europe Director.


Disclaimer: As of December 31, 2020, research shows that Osman Kavala is still in custody, awaiting trial on different charges.

Osman Kavala, Turkey, Prisoners of Conscience
©  Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom

Prisoners of Conscience from East and Southeast Europe

We feature select few prisoners of conscience out of the many in East and Southeast Europe. One political prisoner is one too many. 

Find out who the other political prisoners are #PrisonersofConscience  #FreeThemAll and in the special Focus on our website

Download now the full report "Prisoners of Conscience 2021: Political Prisoners from East and Southeast Europe".

Prisoners of Conscience : Political Prisoners from East and Southeast Europe
©  Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom