Turkey seeks aggravated life sentences for American scholar and philanthropist accused in coup attempt

Turkey seeks aggravated life sentences for American scholar and philanthropist accused in coup attempt
US academic Henri Barkey and Turkish civil society figure Osman Kavala are accused of involvement in a 2016 coup attempt against the government of President Erdogan.
4 min read
09 October, 2020
Civil society figure Osman Kavala has been jailed for almost three years [Getty]
An Istanbul court accepted on Thursday an indictment charging an American academic and jailed Turkish philanthropist with espionage over their alleged involvement in a 2016 coup attempt.

The indictment calls for Henri Barkey, a former US State Department official and current scholar, and Osman Kavala to face aggravated life sentences for "political and military espionage" and "attempting to change the constitutional order".

Kavala, a prominent civil society figure in Turkey, was jailed nearly three years ago and has faced a number of charges branded "absurd" by Amnesty International.

Gulen, Soros accusations

The new charges accuse Kavala and Barkey of links to FETO, or the Fethullah Terrorist Organisation - the Turkish government's designation for followers of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen. 

Supporters of Gulen, who resides in the United States, are accused of infiltrating Turkish government departments and ultimately perpetrating a botched coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Followers of the cleric are not deemed members of a terrorist organisation by most countries, excluding Turkey and Pakistan.

The indictment accepted this week reitirates charges previously made against Kavala in relation to the 2013 Gezi protest movement.

The philanthropist was acquitted earlier this year over the nationwide protests, which he again stands accused of directing as part of an attempt to overthrow the government.

Both cases also claim Kavala's alleged operations were funded by George Soros, a Hungarian-American billionaire philanthropist who Erdogan has accused of trying to "divide and tear up nations".

Through his funding of progressive causes across the world, Soros has become a favourite target of far-right extremists. Claims that the Jewish philanthropist attempts to control foreign affairs through his work are widely considered to be anti-Semitic.

In the new indictment, Kavala's alleged overseeing of the protest movement is linked to FETO. 

The Gezi protests, alongside allegations of corruption against Erdogan and his family and claims Turkey shipped weapons to Syrian militants, are used as evidence the country was being prepared for a coup prior to 2016.

'Outlandish' charges

During that period, Barkey - who has focused on Turkey and the wider Middle East as both a researcher and former government official - is said to "visited Turkey too often".

The prosecutor points to alleged phone discussions between Barkey and Kavala as evidence of collusion in the alleged anti-government plot during this time. Supporters of both men deny such phone conversations took place.

Barkey's travels to Istanbul during 2016 are also used as evidence in the indictment. The academic was present in Turkey between late June and early July, returning to Istanbul from abroad on July 15.

"Barkey left Turkey on July 3, 2016, and returned in the morning on July 15, 2016, to follow the coup attempt," the indictment claims.

The scholar travelled to Istanbul that day to attend a conference on Buyukada island alongside 10 other researchers and human rights advocates, who were charged in 2017 with aiding an armed terrorist organisation.

The timing of the visit "cannot be explained by chance", the indictment says.

Barkey is also accused in the indictment of supporting the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), an armed Kurdish nationalist militant group that has been engaged in an on-off insurgency since the early '80s.

"The only explanation I can find for the continued, obsessive persecution of #OsmanKavala (and of @hbarkey) is obsessive, evidence-free paranoia," historian Howard Eissenstat said in a tweet. "It is unjust. It is shameful. And it speaks of a society that has simply gone of the rails."

The "outlandish charges" are "based on what cannot be gratified by the word 'evidence' in any commonly understood meaning", added Milena Buyum, Turkey campaigner for Amnesty International.

"The chilling accusations, so gratuitously advanced, would not stand a chance in the hands of an independent judiciary. They wouldn't be accepted by a court let alone presented by a prosecuting authority," Buyum said in a series of tweets.

"With this injustice, it is #Turkey that is on the dock," she added.

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