By Daren Butler and Ali Kucukgocmen
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s judiciary drew international criticism on Wednesday after a prominent businessman was re-arrested over charges related to a failed 2016 military coup, hours after being acquitted over his alleged role in landmark protests in 2013.
Osman Kavala, a Turkish businessman and philanthropist, was among nine people acquitted on Tuesday of charges related to the Gezi Park protests seven years ago which threatened the grip on power of then-premier, now President Tayyip Erdogan.
Their acquittal was a surprise for many observers of a case that had caused alarm among Western allies, opposition lawmakers and rights groups and which had been seen as a test of Turkey’s justice system under Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
Kavala’s re-arrest at the request of prosecutors was in connection with an event three years later: according to a document seen by Reuters, he is accused of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order in the 2016 coup attempt.
The Gezi Park unrest was one of the most serious challenges faced by Erdogan since his AK Party (AKP) came to power in 2002. On Wednesday, Erdogan described the protests as one of a series of attacks that he said culminated in the coup bid.
“The Gezi events were a heinous attack targeting the people and state, just like military coups,” he told AKP lawmakers.
“Yesterday they set out to acquit (Kavala) with a manoeuvre,” Erdogan added, and later told reporters the new arrest order must be respected.
The European Parliament rapporteur on Turkey, Nacho Sanchez Amor, criticized the move. “No way to believe in any improvement in Turkey if the prosecutor is undermining any step ahead. Back again in dark period,” he said in a tweet.
Kerem Altiparmak, a lawyer and deputy head of Turkey’s Human Rights Association, said similar actions by the judiciary had prevented several others, including Kurdish opposition figure Selahattin Demirtas – who has been in jail for more than three years on terrorism-related charges – from being released.
Altiparmak pointed to coordination between different courts, judges and prosecutors who “on paper have nothing to do with each other” but whose actions keep defendants in jail.
“This naturally makes you think that this is very organized,” he said, noting that judges and prosecutors were effectively appointed by Erdogan’s party.
State-owned Anadolu news agency reported later on Wednesday that the Board of Judges and Prosecutors had begun an inquiry against the judges who ruled for acquittals in the Gezi trial.
In the Gezi case, Kavala was accused of trying to overthrow the government by organizing the protests, during which hundreds of thousands marched across Turkey against Erdogan’s plans to redevelop a major park in Istanbul, which has few green spaces.
Kavala denied the accusations.
COURT ORDERS PRE-TRIAL DETENTION OF KAVALA
Late on Tuesday, police detained Kavala immediately after his release from a sprawling prison in Silivri, west of Istanbul, and took him to police headquarters after routine health checks, a police spokeswoman said.
Late on Wednesday he was placed in pre-trial detention by order of an Istanbul court, a police spokeswoman said, and was expected to head back to prison. Kavala spent more than two years in jail over the Gezi case.
Elaborating on its decision, the court said Kavala had been in contact with one of the organizers of the coup attempt, and added that they had met with people with links to the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Kavala is cited by the court as stating that assertions he supported the coup attempt are “baseless.”
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the new accusations against Kavala were “not justifiable in any respect.”
In its December ruling, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said evidence was insufficient to justify the accusation that Kavala had been involved in the abortive 2016 coup.
Ankara says the coup attempt was carried out by supporters of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, has denied any involvement.
Since the putsch, authorities have carried out a sustained security crackdown, jailing about 80,000 people and dismissing 150,000 civil servants, military personnel and others and closing some 180 media organizations.
The purges escalated again this week with another 700 people detained on allegations of links to Gulen. Ankara defends the clampdown as necessitated by the scale of the threat faced by Turkey.
(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay in Ankara, Michelle Martin in Berlin; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Mark Heinrich)