Below is the English translation of Şirin Payzın's interview with Osman Kavala published in T24 on 15 November 2020.
You can access the original article here.
Osman Kavala: The time taken from your life is a loss that is impossible to compensate; what has been written is not a bill of indictment, it is a bill of slander!
“What I miss the most is of course being at home with my wife. Having been re-arrested after the release decision and still being prosecuted with a possibility of life in prison, I try not to dream too much.”
Şirin Payzın, 15 November 2020
This is my third interview with Osman Kavala in prison… Follow-up is an indispensable principle of journalism.
Because of the dozens of ongoing political trials in Turkey, we are also following up on trials and indictments…
Osman Kavala has been imprisoned for 1112 days.
When he was first remanded in pre-trial detention, he was kept in prison for 477 days without the accusations against him. Then he was acquitted of “financing the Gezi protests, attempting to overthrow the government” in his first prosecution. As expecting to be released, he was re-arrested with the allegation that “he had played a role in the 15 July coup attempt and espionage”.
In the second indictment issued on 29 September 2020, aggravated life imprisonment and 20 years are being requested for Osman Kavala.
Osman Kavala responded to the questions I sent him at length… He says, “I have not had any private meetings with Henri Barkey, who is mentioned in the context of the espionage allegation, but as stated by Mr. Arınç [Deputy PM 2009-2015], he had a very close relationship with AKP politicians.” He says, “During the 15 July coup attempt I was attending a meeting of the Ministry of Culture to gather support for the inclusion of Ani in the World Heritage Sites list.”
He says, “With this indictment, the prosecution attempts to create a legal precedent for espionage that would include civil society activities. For this reason, I have been imprisoned for eight months and I am not being released.”
Without further commentary, I will let Osman Kavala to tell it as it is…
“This is a bill of slander”
- You have been imprisoned for over three years; have you imagined you would be in prison for this long?
When I was first arrested, I believed this was due to a mistake and that the mistake would be rectified very quickly. However, the developments made me realize that what was being done was not based on judicial considerations; rather it is the execution of a parallel punishment. The new indictment further exposed this unlawfulness and the rationale behind it. What is apparent is that some members of the judiciary have internalized the belief that political priorities are more important than the norms of universal law and the protection of people’s right to live freely. Three years is not a short time. Especially if you are at a certain age, the time taken away from you becomes a loss that is impossible to compensate.
- What would you say if I asked you to describe this bill of indictment?
This is not an indictment prepared in accordance with fundamental norms of law, identifying the perpetrator of a criminal act, containing evidence; it is rather a fictional text that has been penned to create the perception that I have committed political crimes. In short, it is a bill of slander.
- Three times aggravated life imprisonment was not even requested for those who had carried out the coup attempt; what did you think about this request?
This is the case because the accusations of overthrowing the constitutional order (supporting the coup attempt), overthrowing the government (organizing Gezi) and espionage are brought together. And this has its own internal logic. In the absence of any evidence, each accusation is employed as proof for the other. These allegations are supporting each other to create the perception that I am involved in shady business.
“Locking horns with the law”
- Let’s look at the details of the indictment. The allegations directed at you in the Gezi prosecution of which you were acquitted are also in this indictment. What do you say about this?
This is an attempt to annul the acquittal decision, to put it aside, an attitude of locking horns with the law. In its evaluation report of the Gezi indictment, the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales states: “Either the prosecutors who prepared the indictment have been engulfed in politicization that they became incapable of examining their own evidence objectively or this indictment has not been prepared in compliance with the principle of honesty.”
The new indictment was prepared by the same prosecuting authority that prepared the Gezi indictment. The foreign plot theory in the Gezi indictment is being revived. The interesting point is this:
The fact that those who prepared the fiction about me in the Gezi indictment, who unlawfully listened to my phone calls, were members of the police and judiciary who are accused of membership to Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organisation (FETO) was exposed; this fact was included in the court decision in the Gezi trial. Despite this, the new indictment states I was in contact with those who had responsibility in FETO.
“Arınç also expressed this; Henri Barkey is someone who had a close dialogue with those in AKP”
- It is alleged in the indictment that you had often spoken with Henri Barkey because your telephones received signals from the same base stations in Elmadag and Taksim. What is your relationship with Henri Barkey?
My office is next to the cluster of hotels such as Divan, Hilton, Ceylan, Grand Hyatt in Talimhane. The telephones of countless people who come to our city from abroad connect to the same base station as ours. When I was first imprisoned based on this fact, it was alleged that Barkey and I had spoken on the phone for 90 hours. When it became clear this was untrue, the fiction that we had met face to face was put forward.
Henri Barkey is an academic, working on Turkey and the Middle East. He was invited countless times to conferences where government representatives, speakers from civil society institutions were present. Aside from academic circles, as stated by Mr. Arınç, he is also someone who had a close dialogue with AKP politicians. I know his sister, my meeting with him happened in one of such conferences. The last time that our paths crossed was during the Istanbul Forum Conference in October 2012. Besides this, there is no ongoing communication between us, we did not work together or had a private meeting. He was not involved in any of the events of Anadolu Kultur.
If, as alleged in the indictment, he was really suspected of being an actor in the 15 July coup attempt and carried out espionage, it would have been necessary to investigate the sources that could have provided him with critical information about state institutions, and seek the statements of the people he was in a dialogue with. The only special information he could have gathered from me would have been about the activities of artists in Anatolian cities and the situation of the cultural heritage at risk. At the end of a three-year-long criminal investigation, the fact that only concrete evidence is a small bell with the Pennsylvania coat of arms that he allegedly left in a hotel gives you an idea about the seriousness of the allegation.
- You were first accused of organizing the Gezi protests not of organizing the 15 July coup attempt… What were you doing on 15 July? The day before and the following days?
Yes, the prosecuting authorities did not see me worthy of accusations that are more modest. On 10-15 July, I was participating in an international conference of UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage Committee in Istanbul. The Ministry of Culture had proposed Ani for inclusion in the World Heritage List, we were carrying out activities in support of this initiative. When I encountered Henri Barkey at Karakoy Restaurant, I was with foreign guests who work on cultural heritage.
- Did you know about the 15 July coup attempt before it happened? What do you say about the allegation that you planned it together with Henri Barkey?
They are both ridiculous allegations.
“As the initial pieces of information came out, I became convinced that what was behind the coup attempt was a Gulenist organization”
- What was your first reaction when you heard of the coup attempt? Who do you think organized it?
I was very surprised. I figured that, unlike the coup of 12 September , it had not been carried out by the chain of command, the majority of the army had not participated in it, and it would not be successful. Despite this, I also thought that it could leave long-lasting damage and I was worried. As the initial pieces of information came out, I became convinced that what was behind the coup attempt was a Gulenist organization. Yet, I want to underline something: Those who planned and executed the coup attempt is a very narrow group. Against this, the Gulenist organization is largely a widespread network of organizations. It is not possible to allege that people who participate in these were aware of the criminal activities or that they supported these.
- Is the allegation in the indictment that you obtained documents containing state secrets and engaged in military espionage true? What do you say about the allegation that you obtained documents that threaten national security and used them for espionage?
Two issues arise from the espionage allegation in the indictment. There is no mention of any document or concrete information that could be the basis of this crime; and espionage is defined in a different way than how it is defined in the law. What is clear is that the prosecution has redefined espionage to include civil society activities. Because of this new definition, my release from prison is being prevented.
- Do you have any connection to FETO or the Gulen movement?
I do not have any relation with or sympathy for the movement or the organizations in the Gulenist network. Previously, I followed closely the security operation targeting the Contemporary Education Foundation (ÇEV) in order to support the Foundation. This incident was a warning sign of the Gulenist infiltration inside the police. But at the time, I wasn’t aware that there was also a similar infiltration inside the judiciary. The ÇEV board members who were accused of supporting the PKK had not been remanded in prison and if I remember correctly, they were acquitted at the first hearing. When the Ergenekon prosecution reached the Contemporary Life Association and Türkan Saylan, the picture became clearer for me.
- What do you think about the commentary that the indictment resembles those prepared by the Gulenist (FETO) prosecutors such as Sledgehammer, Ergenekon, OdaTV indictments?
I think it was the Gezi indictment that resembled Ergenekon prosecution. As it was the case in the Ergenekon case, the scenario that a very effective secret organization existed and that I was its leader. In fact, the Gezi indictment was based on a scenario prepared by security officials and members of the judiciary accused of FETO membership. The new thing in the latest indictment is the secret relationship between Henri Barkey and me. Together with him, as if an invisible science fiction character, I prepare the 15 July coup attempt, I carry out espionage through my control of civil society organizations. Because the relationship between us is very secret, it cannot be established!
- The prosecutor who wrote the latest indictment was promoted to Deputy Justice Minister. He will also be responsible for the promotion of judges and prosecutors in the Council of Judges and Prosecutors. What do you think?
The authorities of states that are party to the European Convention on Human Rights must be responsible for the prevention of the preparation of indictments such as this and the imprisonment decisions based on them. In the Judicial Reform Strategy, it was indicated that when considering the record of judges and prosecutors, their judgments being in line with ECtHR decisions would be taken as criteria too. It is very clear that these indictments are not in line with the European Convention on Human Rights and ECtHR norms.
In an interview, he gave to Taha Akyol in Karar newspaper, Prof. İzzet Özgenç mentions the selection of the high criminal court judge, who had not implemented a Constitutional Court ruling about a rights violation, to the Court of Cassation. Akyol defines this as an example of practices that amount to rewarding political loyalty.
- In each indictment, you are accused of being an extension of Soros but there is no prosecution against Soros. Why do you think this is?
If the aim of the indictments was to expose those who have committed a crime and if the prosecution really believed the fiction contained in the indictment, Soros would have been among the accused. But that is not the aim, they want to create a perception with the use of Soros’ name. This way, the fiction based on the narrative that Gezi protests were the result of a foreign plot could be prepared. Because of widespread beliefs about him, a narrative that includes Soros as an actor is convincing without the need for proof.
- What can you say about the allegation that because Soros is Jewish, he is engaged in activities in line with Israel’s interests, against Erdogan government?
It is not in this indictment but certain publications have written about it. This reflects a Hitler like approach. Everybody knows that there isn’t a good relationship between Soros and the Netanyahu government, that the Open Society Foundation supports the work of Palestinian academics who are critical of Israel’s policies. I have witnessed the importance he gives to being in constant dialogue and good relations with the government in Turkey. During his last visit to Turkey, he was absorbed by the situation of Syrian refugees. He was arguing for the necessity of the EU making a bigger financial contribution, accepting more asylum seekers. Naturally, he was supporting Turkey’s refugee policies.
- The indictment talks about civil society organizations being used for espionage activities. Did you use foreign funds; were they concealed? Was there any funding received outside of the knowledge of the state, funds that you have not disclosed the source of?
Anadolu Kultur’s website has the details of all the funding it received and how it is spent; it is also there in all the official records. There is no question of the use of funding or activities for which the funding source is undefined or unknown.
“All of the projects of Anadolu Kultur are transparent”
-In the indictment, you are accused of carrying out work that divides Kurdish, Turkish, Syriac, Armenian citizens from each other. What do you say about this?
Under my direction, all the projects carried out by Anadolu Kultur for which I am responsible are transparent; all the outputs and materials are there for all to see. It can be easily understood that none of these are suspicious. For the last twenty years, from Canakkale to Kars, to Diyarbakir, we have carried out countless events in many Anatolian cities. With our activities, we aim at breaking down prejudices among young people, encouraging dialogue and debate in a civilized context. Of course, we consider multiculturalism as a richness and support those initiatives that work for increasing awareness of cultural rights.
- Did you use Turkey’s cultural characteristics for intelligence purposes?
It is unfathomable to relate the cultural characteristics of a society and artistic activities related to these with the crime of espionage. Only in undemocratic regimes might these be seen as intelligence-related activities.
- Do you agree that your prosecution, the indictments aim to intimidate/threaten civil society and liberal thought?
I believe that the overwhelming aim in this indictment is to discredit and criminalize mass protests, as the allegations about Gezi are also revived in this indictment. Keeping the narrative alive that Gezi was an attempt by outside forces is convenient for the narrative used in the accusations directed at the opposition. This newly invented espionage accusation may be handy for the intimidation of human rights defenders, the organizations carrying out work about minority rights, even those who are carrying out research to ground their critical approach. Journalists are also currently being accused of espionage quite easily.
“I am not that surprised at the silence of NGOs”
- Do you feel you have been abandoned? Especially by TUSIAD (Turkish Industry and Business Association) or civil society…
I am not a member of TÜSIAD. But even if I were, there wouldn’t be much TUSIAD could do beyond stating ‘we expect him to be prosecuted in a fair trial.’ Had they spoken of a rights violation, they would be accused of interfering with the judiciary. In the repressive context of judicial institutions being under political influence, I am not surprised that civil society organizations apart from human rights defenders are silent.
- Had there been more support from abroad, would the situation be different?
I am happy about receiving support from abroad. These, like the support I receive within my country, are a great source of morale for me. But I never thought these would have an impact, or that to be impactful they must increase. At the moment, one thing that is as important as my release is the confirmation that I am subjected to a rights violation in a way that the members of the judiciary, the politicians, and everyone in our country can understand.
- What do you think about the election of Joe Biden, will it have an impact on your situation?
I am not a US citizen. The US government is not responsible for the protection of my right to liberty. Nevertheless, it is not just Biden that has taken the leadership. Biden is a politician that reflects the traditions of the Democratic Party; his deputy Kamala Harris is not only a symbol of the change in American society, she is also a prominent lawyer. This means a new mindset is coming to leadership. We can foresee human rights and legal norms becoming an important factor in the US foreign policy. With the change in the US, the need for our country to have an independent judiciary that functions in line with universal norms of justice so that its reputation is restored has become more apparent. The functioning of the judiciary in this way is primarily important for our citizens’ confidence in the judicial system.
- There are those who stay away from your case. There are those who stay silent because they think you supported the ‘not enough but yes’, liberal, the PKK positions. What can you say about this?
These are false and cheap labels. It is not rational to remain silent at the unlawfulness meted out to those who defend views you do not like. This approach prevents the internalization of ethical values and modern legal norms; it serves to legitimize lawlessness. But what is even more widespread is the normalization of the lawlessness, the acceptance of rights violations with the attitude of ‘is there even a justice system here?’ This is more dangerous because it feeds itself from reality and creates the conditions for the perpetuation of this reality.
“I didn’t vote at the 2010 referendum”
- Did you not support the ‘not enough but yes’ approach? Are you not a liberal?
I believe that liberal thought is very important for democracies. John Stuart Mill’s warning that the threat to freedoms does not just come from dictatorships but could also emanate from majorities, from administrations based on majorities is very pertinent today. But of course, I don’t believe in the miracle of the free market, I defend the necessity of social and economic policies that serve to advance equality.
I did not vote in the 2010 referendum, because I did not believe that in those conditions and with such content, that the referendum would act as a democratic institution. I believe that critical changes regarding the judiciary and comprehensive constitutional change must be realized through broad agreement. Without seeking consensus between political parties, putting to the adjudication of the people institutional changes whose outcomes are difficult to predict is not a correct use of the referendum in my view. I had expressed these views in a column I wrote in Radikal 2 before the referendum.
But I don’t agree that those who held the ‘not enough but yes’ view are among those most responsible for the problems we are facing today. This is not a balanced or fair assessment. While the damage to state institutions and the rule of law is continuing every day, I do not find the political activity of exposing the supporters of the ‘not enough but yes’ position meaningful. I believe this does not contribute to the need to focus on the reality that a sizeable section of society is indifferent to the unlawfulness and to anti-democratic practices.
“What I miss the most…”
- How is your health, your [prison] conditions? In particular, are the COVID-19 measures sufficient? What are you doing? What do you miss? What do you dream of?
I think my health is good. Here there are serious measures regarding the pandemic, we have so far not encountered any problems. The guards are staying in the prison for 10 days, they don’t go out. However, the spread of the pandemic outside of course increases the risk. This is a very hectic place. Apart from the guards, new prisoners are constantly brought in. There is the fact that the tests are not always accurate.
I receive newspapers, I continue to read a lot, I watch television in the evenings, mainly Halk TV, your programs. I appreciate the TRT 2 programs, the films. But I believe that due to their budget problems, some films are shown again and again. I go to the courtyard to walk twice a day.
What I miss the most is of course being at home with my wife. Having been re-arrested after the release decision and still being prosecuted with a possibility of life in prison, I try not to dream too much. Walking around in the world of books is better for my mental health. But my dreams about my country persist, I also need these for my mental health.