Turkey seeks life term for suspects over 2013 Gezi Park protests

Businessman Osman Kavala, journalist Can Dundar and actor Mehmet Alabora among 16 charged with overthrowing government.

    The Gezi protests were one of the largest wave of movements in modern Turkish history [File: AP]
    The Gezi protests were one of the largest wave of movements in modern Turkish history [File: AP]

    A Turkish prosecutor is seeking life sentences for 16 suspects, including prominent philanthropist and businessman Osman Kavala, for allegedly financing widespread protests in Turkey in 2013 and "attempting to overthrow the government".

    Kavala, who has been held in custody for more than a year without being charged, is now accused of backing the 2013 anti-government protests in Istanbul and being linked to the failed coup attempt in 2016, state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Wednesday.

    Exiled journalist Can Dundar and actor Mehmet Ali Alabora, who took part in the 2013 demonstrations, were also charged, Anadolu said.

    Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Istanbul six years ago to protest against a plan to build a replica of an Ottoman barracks on Gezi Park in the city centre.

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    The protests turned into nationwide anti-government demonstrations that threw up one of the biggest challenges to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government. He was the prime minister at the time. 

    Authorities recently renewed their efforts to investigate the protests, a move opposition figures said was designed to polarise public opinion and rally support for Erdogan before local elections next month.

    2016 coup crackdown

    Kavala is cofounder of the Iletisim publishing house and chairman of the Anadolu Kultur (Anatolian Culture) foundation. The foundation aims to overcome differences within Turkish society through culture and the arts and has sought to reach out to neighbouring Armenia.

    A respected figure in intellectual circles in Turkey and abroad, Kavala has been kept in pretrial custody since November 1, 2017, at the Silivri prison outside Istanbul.

    The case has alarmed Turkey's Western allies and increased concern of a clampdown on freedom of expression under Erdogan.

    The president has said the protests were organised and financed by Kavala - allegations he has denied.

    The Gezi protests were one of the largest wave of movements in modern Turkish history and the government's sometimes heavy-handed response drew criticism from human rights advocates and Turkey's Western allies.

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    In November, police detained more than a dozen people as part of the investigation into the Gezi protests, while US billionaire George Soros's Open Society Foundation said it would cease operations in Turkey after it became a target of the investigation

    All the suspects are facing the charge of "attempting to overthrow the government". Some are also accused of "damaging public property" and "damaging worshipping houses and cemeteries," Anadolu said.

    A court in Istanbul must accept the prosecutors' indictment against the suspects before a trial can begin.

    Turkish prosecutors are also accusing Kavala of being behind a 2013 corruption scandal in which Erdogan's inner circle was implicated and linked to coup plotters which the government blames on US-based Muslim scholar Fethullah Gulen. He has denied the charges.

    The charges against Kavala come as the government has launched a mass crackdown in the wake of the failed 2016 coup, with the arrest of tens of thousands of suspects.

    Critics say the measures have gone well beyond the coup suspects and targeted dissent, but the government says they are needed to clean Gulen's "virus" that infiltrated into state institutions.

    Outnumbered outlets: Turkey's post-coup media crackdown

    The Listening Post

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    SOURCE: News agencies