Conflicts & War

Life sentence for activist spurs protests in Turkey

By Ilya U. Topper

Istanbul, Apr 26 (EFE).- Thousands took to the streets here and in other Turkish cities Tuesday to protest the life sentence handed down to entrepreneur, philanthropist, and activist Osman Kavala on charges arising from the massive antigovernment demonstrations that rocked the country in 2013.

The largest gathering took place in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, which was the epicenter of the mobilization nine years ago against the administration of then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now Turkey’s president.

Participants held up signs with images of the eight people who died during the 2013 protests and chanted slogan such as “resistance everywhere” and “shoulder to shoulder against fascism.”

Also heard were shouts of “AKP out,” referring to the Erdogan-led Islamist party that has held power since 2002.

The 2013 uprising began with rallies against a plan to turn Istanbul’s Gezi Park into a shopping mall. The heavy-handed police response roused anger and the protests spread across Turkey.

Kavala, now 64, was acquitted two years ago on charges directly related to the events of 2013. Yet the acquittal was overturned and prosecutors added the more serious accusation of “attempting to overthrow the government.”

They alleged that the well-known businessman had been involved in the attempted military coup of 2016, though without ever offering any concrete evidence.

Seven other people convicted along with Kavala were sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Kavala and the others did take part in the Gezi Park protests, but defense counsel argued that none of them played a leading or organizing role.

“It’s a purely political verdict, vengeance on the part of the AKP,” a young man identifying himself only as Baris told Efe at Tuesday’s demonstration in Istanbul.

Opposition politicians, human rights advocates, and figures from the world of arts and culture have joined in condemnation of the verdict, echoed by the governments of the United States, Germany, and France, among others.

Amid a heavy police presence, the protest in Taksim Square concluded without incident, but cops subsequently made arrests while breaking up smaller groups of demonstrators on nearby streets. EFE iut-dt/dr

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