Jun 27 2019

Erdoğan revenge trial follows victory for Turkish democracy - FT

Turkey is following a big step forward this week with what may be a tragic step backwards, as an apparent revenge trial began the day after the opposition decisively beat President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling party in Sunday’s Istanbul mayoral rerun, said an analysis by the Financial Times. 

It’s now clear that the hitherto unbeatable president can be defeated, but the trial of 16 civil society activists charged with a conspiracy to overthrow the state during the 2013 Gezi protests “suggests that democracy — however stubborn — will struggle to survive a judiciary subservient to one-man rule”, FT leader writer David Gardner wrote on Wednesday. 

Since the failed coup of July 2016, Turkey’s judiciary has become a machine to destroy the alleged perpetrators -- the followers of U.S.-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen -- as well as liberals, leftists, and Kurdish dissidents, according to Gardner, who says 77,000 people remain behind bars and at least 150,000 judges, academics, teachers, journalists, soldiers and diplomats have been sacked. 

“The defendants are a cross-section of civic activism,” said Gardner, “and a select group of Turkey’s independent intelligentsia, everything the neo-Islamist national populism of the Erdoğanists detests. The star defendant is Osman Kavala, held in detention since his shock arrest in October 2017.”

Wealthy businessman and philanthropist Kavala has devoted his life to building cultural bridges, to Kurds, Armenians, and refugees, yet stands accused of masterminding the Gezi uprisings, which ultimately involved some 3 million people across Turkey. 

Behind Kavala, prosecutors claim, is billionaire Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros and his Open Society Foundation, of which Kavala served on the board in Turkey.  

“They allege that Mr. Soros used the Open Society to transfer funds to Mr. Kavala to fire up the Gezi Park conspiracy,” said Gardner, adding that there is no evidence to support this. 

“Why Mr. Kavala, heir to an industrial fortune he gives away, would need such funds is one of the many unanswered questions that litter this cut-and-paste charge sheet,” he added.  “This ludicrous confection would win a magical surrealism prize were the charges not so serious.”

All 16 defendants face life in prison without parole, and some see the trial as revenge by Erdoğan on those he thinks first exposed his vulnerability, like Kavala and Open Society’s Hakan Altınay.

“Their reward is to have the 2016 coup, that the government blames on the Gülenists, backdated to 2013 — to include them,” said Gardner.