Turkey faces disciplinary action for failing to release jailed activist, says Council of Europe

The Council of Europe announced Friday it will take disciplinary action against Turkey if it refuses to release jailed philanthropist Osman Kavala. 

The announcement follows Amnesty International’s call last month for the Council of Europe to launch infringement proceedings after a Turkish court ruled against Kavala’s release. 

Turkey has refused to comply with a binding judgment from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2019 that called for Kavala’s immediate release, triggering the disciplinary proceedings.

This is only the second time in the Council of Europe’s history that the procedure has been triggered, said a spokesperson for the organization. If Turkey fails to abide by the judgment, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe would have to decide on the sanctions against Turkey after a two-thirds vote by the committee and the ECHR’s approval.

Disciplinary proceedings have never reached that stage, said the spokesperson, “so, in a way, it would be uncharted territory.”

The judgment said that Kavala’s detention was based on “acts that could not be reasonably considered as behaviour criminalised under domestic law.” Without evidence of criminal activity, the ECHR judged, “he could not reasonably be suspected of having attempted to overthrow the Government by force or violence.”

Kavala was arrested in Istanbul in October 2017 on suspicion of having links to the Fethullah Gülen movement, led by a U.S.-based Muslim preacher Ankara accuses of inciting a failed coup in 2016; and financing the 2013 nationwide anti-government demonstrations that started at Istanbul’s Gezi Park. He is also accused of involvement in the 2016 coup attempt.

The Turkish prosecutor’s office considered those acts an insurrection by terrorist organizations aimed at overthrowing the government.

The Council of Europe’s statement follows calls for his release by two MEPs involved in Turkish affairs, Nacho Sánchez Amor and Sergey Lagodinsky.

“It is now up to the Turkish courts and authorities to rise to the occasion and show political will by adhering to international commitments, democracy and rule of law. This is the only way forward to allow EU-Turkey cooperation to deepen, including the renewal of the customs union,” said Amor and Lagodinsky in a joint statement.

The Council of Europe — a 47-country human rights organization that is distinct from the European Union — has asked Turkey to give its view on the case by January 19, 2022.

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