Below is the English translation of Şirin Payzın's interview with Osman Kavala published in Halk Tv on 6 May 2022.
You can access the original article here.
Osman Kavala: "When I heard the verdict I felt sick in my stomach"
Şirin Payzın, 16 May 2022
Businessperson Osman Kavala who was sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment in the Gezi prosecution gave his first interview since the verdict to halktv.com.tr. When addressing the political implications of the trial, Kavala said ‘there is a serious attempt to divert attention’, adding that he believes that the Court of Cassation will overturn the verdict but that he doesn’t think this would happen before the elections.
What was your first reaction to the aggravated life sentence? How do you feel now?
While I expected a sentence that would equate to the unlawful pre-trial detention period at the end of the prosecution, I did not expect this. I didn’t expect the other friends’ heavy sentences and their imprisonment. In the past, I have felt a sense of injustice after hearings that concluded with the decision to continue my pre-trial detention. But on Monday [25 April], I felt sick in my stomach, I think because I saw evil without any cover.
Your lawyers said “the judges did not even ask any questions of Osman Kavala”. Had they asked, what would you have told them?
The court did not fulfil its function. Witnesses were not heard, evidence was not discussed, nor were the accused questioned. My lawyers’ comment meant to draw attention to this situation. The first Gezi prosecution was carried out by the Heavy Penal Court No. 30, that panel knew the file well. I believe the Heavy Penal Court No. 13 [the court that heard the retrial] did not properly examine the additional files, the defence statements from the previous trial before reaching their verdict.
One of the judges in the panel is a member of the AKP, his wife had made a confession about Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organisation (FETO). What is your reaction [to this]?
It is painful that a member of the judiciary is in this situation. It is not ethical that a judge who, until recently, was an active party member, is assigned to a case in which the leader of the political party is a party to the case, even if the question of the confession was not an issue. Such a person signing on such heavy sentences in a politically motivated prosecution where the link between the imputed crimes and the criminal acts is not established through evidence but theories, exposes a very serious situation. I have also learned that the presiding judge was a member of the panel which refused to implement the Constitutional Court decision for Enis Berberoglu [a member of parliament who was unlawfully imprisoned].
Why is the government so worried to see you free?
As I said in my statement to the court, the scenario of an attempt to overthrow the government in which I and George Soros feature serves to criminalise the Gezi protests and to discredit the will of those who participated in the protests. There is no evidence to sustain the allegation that the Gezi protests were organised, financed by foreign powers. Because there isn’t, my being presented and named as the behind the scenes organiser, my being kept in prison as if there is evidence against me is being used to create an impression of my guilt. If I am released, this scenario becomes weaker.
Are the sentences handed down to you and seven others an attempt to silence the opposition? Or is it a message to society at large? Is it a calculation for the election?
It is clear that my pre-trial detention and the aggravated life sentence is a message to the civil society organisations that they must not undertake activities that will disturb the government. In addition, I believe it also serves the development and use of an ideological and political narrative that focuses on foreign enemies. I think in the pre-election context, in order to consolidate the support of the electorate, policies that highlight security will merge with this foreign enemy centred narrative. That is to say, this is not just about the revenge for what happened in the past, it is closely linked to the upcoming political process.
Are you happy with the reaction of the six opposition parties?
Some parties have reacted vociferously, others have expressed their reactions more carefully. Taken together, I think these reactions have been satisfactory.
The prosecution ended with convictions yet there was insufficient evidence in the prosecution. Babacan and Davutoglu who are members of the opposition alliance of six parties were part of the government at the time. Would much change if they speak out today?
Had Mr Davutoglu and Mr Babacan spoken out earlier against the conspiracy theories in the indictment and the unlawfulness during the prosecution, the trial would have been better understood in the public opinion. Mr Mustafa Yeneroglu did this. The leaders [Davutoglu and Babacan] may have been mindful of possible accusations of attempting to influence the judiciary, or of supporting a pro-Soros person. I don’t think what they might have said would have impacted on the trial. This prosecution in which the President is direct party, who made speeches about my guilt, presided over by a team such as this is not following the rule of law, doesn’t aim to unearth the truth. It is based on conspiracy theories, not the truth. Mr Kilicdaroglu likened it to a Nazi court. In truth, some of the practices during the prosecution reminded us of the Nazi era criminal law. This is why I don’t quite agree with Ahmet Şık who said had the hearings been better attended this decision wouldn’t have been made. There is a serious attempt to divert attention.
Do you think you are being made an object of negotiation against the EU or the US government?
My pre-trial detention for 4,5 years has rendered this theory redundant. From the start this was not very logical. The protection of the security of citizens and their right to live freely is the obligation of the state that abides by the rule of law. A government may enter into negotiation with the government of a country where it considered there are no fair trials in order to save its citizen imprisoned in that country. Just like the negotiations with illegal groups to save hostages. Because I am a citizen of the Republic of Turkey, the US, the EU or other countries may call for my release but would not enter into negotiations for this.
Erdogan said “Kavala is Turkey’s Soros.” What is your response? Are you? What is your connection?
The President and Devlet Bahceli are trying to legitimise the outcome of the trial with their statements about me being pro-Soros. I am certain that the government is well aware that Soros had nothing to do with Gezi protests. They also know that I do not have a different relationship to Mr Soros that is different to the other members of the Board of Open Society Foundation. When Mr Soros came to Turkey, he met with government officials, these meetings also included the President of Open Society Foundation; because they represented the Foundation, the President of the board would be Mr Soros’ counterpart. I don’t think anyone believes the scenario that Mr Soros was making plans and that he supported activities to overthrow the government. It is impossible that, Open Society Foundation which has worked in accordance with the law and whose support for projects are known, has nothing to do with political activities is not known by all. The activities of the Foundation were audited, the directors of the Foundation were giving information to the authorities about everything. The government is constructing a crime entitled “being pro-Soros” and using this to support their narrative that foreign powers are attacking our country.
Cavusoglu said “why are they insisting on this person, why do they care, because they are funding and using him”. What’s your response?
Those who criticise my detention and the verdict know that I work for the good of my country, that I defend peace, democracy and human rights. The vast majority of these people want the rule of law and democracy in Turkey, who are worried about Turkey moving away from Europe. Their reaction is not just about me being deprived of my freedom, it has to do with the overt violation of legal norms, the blatant tempering with the laws in order to render the ECtHR judgment ineffectual. The statement of the Minister of Justice, like the repetition of the baseless and vindictive allegations in the indictment, shows the nature of the relationship between politics and the judiciary. The Minister of Foreign Affairs would do better if he questioned why his own statements are not taken seriously instead of reaching out for conspiracy theories to explain why some circles abroad care about me and this case.
Do you think Turkey will be condemned by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers?
Heavy sentences were passed on the ‘evidence’ that, 28 months ago, the ECtHR considered they did not represent evidence of a crime. This verdict exposes the fact that the ECtHR’s examination of the evidence is not being taken seriously and that new crimes have been invented to render the ECtHR ruling. In the ruling of the ECtHR handed down 28 months ago, it was concluded that political factors played a role in my pre-trial detention. What happened since point at the worsening political pressure on the judiciary and it is likely that the ECtHR will also reach a conclusion along these lines. It is very difficult for the Council of Europe to remain indifferent to this situation, such an approach would lead to the conclusion that the ECtHR system cannot fulfil its function to rectify. But what kind of sanction would be applied will depend on the political conjecture.
When do you think you will be free, do you maintain your hope?
I believe this verdict will be overturned by the Court of Cassation. But I don’t think this will happen before the elections. Because I believe this scenario and the verdict will be used by the government in the next period. If there is a change in government after the elections, and that the new government prioritises the establishment of an independent judiciary, working in accordance with universal norms, as underlined in the joint statement of the six [opposition] parties, the path to freedom for not only those convicted in the Gezi trial, for all those unlawfully detained, convicted citizens could be opened.
I won’t ask for your final words but for your first word for the process from now on. What would you like to tell those who love and support you?
I believe this verdict has contributed to the complete understanding that the current seriousness of the state of the judiciary represents a danger for all citizens. In this regard, I believe our voices will be more listened to. I believe we can explain even more forcefully that an independent judiciary that works in accordance with universal norms of law is a fundamental condition of democracy.
I am thankful for all the support, the messages of solidarity. For those inside, this support is very valuable. It will also be very important for the other friends who were convicted in the Gezi trial.