New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. World
  2. Europe
29 April 2022

Osman Kavala’s life sentence is the death knell for Turkish democracy

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is trying to delegitimise all forms of protest in the country.

By Emily Tamkin

The Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala has been sentenced to life in prison by a court in Istanbul. His crime? “Attempting to overthrow the government.”

Back in 2013, a park in Istanbul was set to be turned into a mall. Nearby residents did not want this to happen so they came out to protest. The protests soon swelled into larger, broader anti-government demonstrations. Kavala was arrested in 2017 on charges related to what became known as the Gezi Park protests. He was acquitted in 2020, but the verdict was overturned. (Fresh charges were also brought for alleged involvement in the 2016 coup attempt; he was charged with both counts at the trial.)

There are others who have been arrested in connection with the Gezi Park protests, though Kavala is one of the more high-profile and his sentence is particularly severe. It drew condemnation from various human rights groups around the world, as well as the US government.

Turkish authorities suggested that the Gezi Park protests were orchestrated by Kavala. Meanwhile, the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused Kavala of being an agent of George Soros, the Hungarian-born billionaire philanthropist who is a favourite bogeyman of aspiring authoritarians around the world.

Turkey has elections. Turkey is a Nato member. Turkey, at one point, was negotiating to join the European Union, though accession talks have stalled. But if the hundreds of arrests of journalists and NGO workers following the 2016 coup attempt were not enough, the lifetime sentence handed down because nine years ago people decided to protest for the preservation of a park makes it clear: Turkish democracy has collapsed.

Yet this is about more than just one man. The idea that the protests were planned by one single figure with criminal intent towards the government is intended to delegitimise the very notion of protest. As though there would be no reason for Turkish people to take to the streets if they were not sent there by Soros via Kavala. But the Turkish people did take to the streets. Wannabe autocrats can insist that all expressions of dissent are coordinated and not genuine reflections of the people’s will, but that doesn’t make it so. Sentencing Osman Kavala to life in prison won’t change that.

[See also: The strange allure of the strongman leader]

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Content from our partners
An innovative approach to regional equity
ADHD in the criminal justice system: a case for change – with Takeda
The power of place in tackling climate change

Topics in this article : ,