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The Turkish Court of Cassation upheld life sentences for prominent civil rights activist Osman Kavala and others on Thursday, in relation to their roles in the Gezi Park protests. The court rejected their appeals against the convictions for “attempting to overthrow the government”. Kavala received an aggravated life sentence, while Mine Özerden, Çiğdem Mater, Can Atalay and Tayfun Kahraman each received 18-year prison sentences.
The Court of Cassation deemed the initial sentence too lenient, indicating that Can Atalay and Tayfun Kahraman should have received the same sentence as Kavala. It stated that their actions were part of a “plan and organisation” that led to the Gezi Park protests spreading across the country.
The court cited social media hashtags, such as “#occupygezi”, as evidence, claiming that the protests were not spontaneous but were part of a larger, orchestrated movement. It also mentioned that the protests were funded by professionals and had been planned two years in advance.
Osman Kavala is considered by the Turkish Court of Cassation as the “most important organiser and mentor” of the Gezi Park protests. The court also mentioned that a theatre play titled Mi Minör, directed by Memet Ali Alabora and written by Handan Meltem Arıkan, was among the evidence for the convictions. The play allegedly encouraged the audience to revolt against a fictional country’s leader via social media.
Çiğdem Mater’s unfinished documentary about the Gezi Park protests was also cited as evidence. The court claimed that Osman Kavala aimed to gain international attention by showing the documentary at international film festivals.
The trial and the sentences have been criticised of being emblematic of Turkey’s erosion of democratic principles and judicial independence. Emma Sinclair-Webb, Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia associate director, described the conviction as “baseless” and “a monstrous abuse of the justice system”.
The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers expressed deep concern over Kavala’s detention, calling for his immediate release and for Turkey to protect its judiciary from executive influence. Journalist Yavuz Baydar highlighted that Kavala would now be placed in solitary confinement, with limited communication. Nacho Sánchez Amor, a member of the European Parliament, stated that Turkey’s actions will lead them further away from EU accession.
In contrast, the court reversed the sentences of three activists: Hakan Altınay, Yiğit Ekmekci, and Mücella Yapıcı. Upon her release, Yapıcı told reporters, “We need to get our loved ones out of prison immediately.”