The main factor keeping Osman Kavala and the Gezi Trial prisoners in jail is not the law. It is not even the Constitution and legislation. If it were, the decisions of the Constitutional Court (AYM) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) would have been implemented in due time; they would not have been overturned by lower courts in line with the political preferences of the government, and perhaps this case would never have been filed.
The fact that the 3rd Criminal Chamber of the Court of Cassation upheld the aggravated life sentences given to Kavala on September 27, as well as the 18-year sentences given to Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman, Mine Özerden and Çiğdem Mater, no doubt pleased President Tayyip Erdoğan and his government allies.
The Court of Cassation ruled that the Gezi Park protests in 2013 were “an act of violence planned to overthrow the government”.
“The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the verdict,” Kavala said after the verdict, “is the product of an understanding that does not value the principles of law and human life. This decision is the most striking indication that convicting people without evidence has become the norm in the judiciary.”
The 18-year sentences given to Mücella Yapıcı, Hakan Altınay and Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi, were overturned as the Court of Cassation ruled that they did not plot the coup but merely participated in unauthorized demonstrations.
Yapıcı and Altınay, who had been detained for over a year, were released. Ekmekçi was already on the run.
“None of us were guilty,” Yapıcı said after her release; “I don’t understand what kind of justice this is. I left my beloveds in here and I’m getting out. We need to get our beloveds out as soon as possible. This country doesn’t deserve such injustice.”
The independent Turkish judiciary accepted some wiretaps as evidence in Gezi Trial, even though in other cases, the wiretaps provided by prosecutors, judges and police officers who are still wanted in “FETÖ cases” were disregarded because the way these tapes were optained were considered as a part of “conspiracies”.
The indictment, together with these recordings, was almost based on a denuncement of Kavala by a one person who had previously been dismissed from the army for erratic behavior, even though he later said, “Don’t trust my testimony. I withdraw it.”
The Court of Cassation also considered Can Atalay and Tayfun Kahraman’s founding of Taksim Solidarity in 2012 “on the pretext of a reaction to the Taksim pedestrianization project” as evidence of “planned action”.
Atalay case: the aim is to deter
Can Atalay’s application for a parliamentary seat with the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP) in the May 14, 2023 parliamentary elections was accepted by the Supreme Electoral Council.
When he was elected Hatay MP, the Supreme Court of Appeals had not yet upheld the verdict against him; he was under arrest.
Although there are examples of people who were elected in a similar situation and took the oath of office as an MP with suspended sentences, he was not allowed to do so.
Or was he waiting for this decision to be written?
“There were millions in Gezi,” his father Mustafa Atalay said at the TİP’s protest march from Hatay to Ankara on October 1.
“My call is for millions,” he said.
This is a father’s quest for justice for his son. Unfortunately, wasn’t the whole point of the Gezi Trial to set an example that would politically deter the masses from new Gezi protests, and to show that those who would even think of exercising their right to protest on the streets again would be made to regret it?
Or doesn’t Erdoğan know that Kavala, Atalay, Kahraman, Mater and Özerdem have nothing to do with coup plotting? Don’t prosecutors and judges know?
Doesn’t the Gezi Trial seem like an example to you that if the evidence doesn’t comply with the law or the verdict, the law is the one to be discarded?
What Kavala and Demirtaş have in common
In the search for answers to these questions, it is useful to recall Erdoğan’s unrelenting anger not only at Kavala but also at Kurdish issue focused Democratic People’s Party’s (HDP) former co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş who has been in prison for almost 7 years.
Even though Kavala and Demirtaş are in prison, Erdoğan has the same problem with both of them.
Especially after the suppression of the July 15, 2016 military coup attempt, Erdoğan began to see Kavala and Demirtaş as actors of the US-led capitalist groups trying to overthrow him or prevent his presidency (just like Fethullah Gülen who was behind the attempt). He made a connection between the Gezi protests erupting just before the coup that toppled the government of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
The 2017 referendum, which he won with the support of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, his opponent until July 15, and the transition to a Turkish-type presidential system did not ease Erdoğan’s anger. In fact, it was further inflamed by his defeat in the 2019 local elections. It was in this process that the decisions of the Constitutional Court and the ECHR were not implemented and the Kavala Case was transformed into the Gezi Trial and it was expanded.
“Don’t forget your religion and your hatred”
Erdoğan won the 2023 elections thanks to the grave mistakes of the opposition, especially the CHP. Now it is time for the 2024 local elections. Erdoğan is not a politician who likes to take chances. Nor is he a politician who would risk weakening his power for the sake of complying with international legal norms. He also comes from a cultural milieu that says “Don’t forget your religion and your grudge”.
The Gezi Trial once again showed that the Turkish judiciary has unfortunately been torn to shreds.
As for the possible reactions from the US, the EU, the Council of Europe, Turkey’s NATO partners… Erdoğan thinks he closed that book in 2021 when 10 Western ambassadors to Ankara, including the US, signed a joint petition demanding Kavala’s release. They backed down when Erdoğan said he would declare them all “persona non grata”.
Now we will see how harsh condemnations and threats from the US and the EU will help the case of the Gezi Trial prisoners and Kavala, whose domestic remedies have been exhausted.