Turkey’s top court on Tuesday ruled that high-profile philanthropist Osman Kavala’s detention had not violated his right to liberty and security after he spent more than three years in jail without a conviction.
Kavala, 63, was remanded earlier this month at a hearing that rights groups said further silenced dissent in the country. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has called for his release.
Immediately after he was acquitted in February of charges related to nationwide protests in 2013, Kavala was arrested again on charges related to a failed coup in 2016. He has rejected all charges.
Kavala, held in jail since late 2017, had applied to the Constitutional Court claiming his detention was unlawful and violated his liberty and security.
But the General Assembly of the Constitutional Court ruled with eight votes against seven that it did not amount to a rights violation, state-owned Anadolu news agency reported.
The Constitutional Court was not available to comment, but Kavala said the decision was “very worrying”.
“The mind boggles at my detention being found lawful on a charge of espionage which is not based on any evidence and which does not fit the definition in the law,” he said in a statement.
Critics say his detention points to political pressure on Turkey’s judiciary, which they say has been bent on punishing thousands of the government’s perceived opponents since 2016. The government says courts are independent and it has acted in the face of threats to the country.
Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey director for Human Rights Watch, said the court’s ruling was “another nail in its own coffin” and that it showed a “flagrant disregard” for the ECHR ruling.
“Serving political masters gets you further than worrying about law in Turkey,” she said on Twitter.
Milena Buyum of Amnesty International said it reflected the political nature of Kavala’s “arbitrary imprisonment” and that Turkey was obligated to abide by ECHR decisions.
The ECHR called in December 2019 for Kavala’s release and said his detention aimed to silence him. But the ruling has not been implemented, as has often been the case related to Turkish courts.
President Tayyip Erdogan’s recent pledges of judicial reforms initially prompted speculation that Kavala and others may be released. But Erdogan has since singled him out, calling Kavala the sponsor of the Gezi Park protests in 2013 – despite courts clearing him of that accusation.
The trial related to the 2016 coup attempt opened earlier this month, when the court kept Kavala jailed and set the next hearing for Feb. 5 at which it will hear another witness.