Global Human Rights Defence

Osman Kavala: From the 2013’s Gezi Park Protests to Life Imprisonment

Osman Kavala: From the 2013’s Gezi Park Protests to Life Imprisonment
Osman Kavala speaking during the Istanbul Film Festival. © canburak/Flickr, 2017

Author: Laura Libertini

Department: Europe Team

On April 25th, 2022, Turkish human rights defender and businessman Osman Kavala was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole along with his seven co-defendants. The charges go back to their alleged pivotal role in the Gezi Park uprisings that took place in Istanbul in 2013 and to their part in the attempted coup d’état in 2016 (Human Rights Watch, 2022).

In May 2013, demolition work started in the Gezi Park, a green area in the centre of Istanbul, immediately triggering environmental protests with residents occupying the area. By the end of the month, the Turkish police intervened violently to suppress the protests. The protests intensified in June and July 2013, spreading to multiple towns and cities across the country. Four civilians and two police officials were killed, while thousands of people were injured (ECtHR, 2019). The protests intensified the tension between the conservative wing and a wide variety of marginalised groups quarrelling over public space, the struggle of minority groups to express their identities freely, and the opposition to the expanding despotism of the democratically elected Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. The abuse of the police force, as well as widespread media censoring and retaliation against journalists and social media users sharply exemplified the flaws of Turkish democracy in its failure to guarantee the pluralism of democracy and the respect for fundamental rights and freedoms (Yaman, 2015).

On the night between July 15th and 16th, 2016, a group part of the Turkish military attempted to carry out a coup to overthrow the parliament, the government, and the President of Turkey. During the night, assaults and violence took place across major Turkish cities, resulting in the killing of more than 250 people and the injury of more than 2,500 people (ECtHR, 2019). As news of the attempted coup spread on social media, thousands of ordinary citizens, with the support of loyal soldiers and police authorities, suppressed the coup  within hours. The Turkish government linked the failed coup attempt to the Turkish preacher and businessman Fethullah Gülen, who has been living in voluntary exile in the U.S. since 1999 (BBC, 2016).

Kavala was arrested on October 18th, 2017 in Istanbul, on charges of attempting to overthrow the Erdogan government and the constitutional order through the use of force and violence. He was accused of taking a leading role both in the Gezi Park events of 2013 and the attempted coup of 2016 (ECtHR, 2019). On October 31st, 2017, assisted by his lawyers, Kavala was interrogated by police officers from the Istanbul Security Headquarters anti-terrorist division. On November 1st, 2017, the public prosecutor called for Kavala to be brought into preventive detention for attempting “to abolish, replace or prevent the implementation of, through force and violence, the constitutional order of the Republic of Turkey” (Penal Code of Turkey Art. 309) and for “attempting, by the use of force and violence, to abolish the government of the Republic of Turkey or to prevent it, in part or in full, from fulfilling its duties” (Penal Code of Turkey Art. 311). On November 8th, 2017, Kavala filed an objection against his pre-trial detention order. A few days later, the Istanbul 2nd Magistrate’s Court rejected his request on the grounds that the decision contested was following the procedure and the law (ECtHR, 2019).

The case was also brought in front of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), holding that multiple violations of the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention) occurred. In the Kavala v. Turkey case, the Strasbourg Court held that there had been a violation of the right to liberty and security enshrined in Article 5 (1), the right to a speedy decision on the lawfulness of detention outlined in Article 5 (4), and the limitation on use of restrictions on rights taken together with Article 5 (1) (ECtHR, 2019). The Court noted that Kavala’s pre-trial detention “had mainly been based not only on acts that could not be reasonably considered as behaviour criminalised under domestic law, but also on acts which were largely related to the exercise of rights guaranteed by Articles 10 and 11 of the Convention, and that those acts had been non-violent”. The Court also added that “in the absence of facts, information or evidence showing that Mr. Kavala had been involved in criminal activity, he could not reasonably be suspected of having attempted to overthrow the government by force or violence” (ECtHR, 2019).

In addition to the main allegation against Kavala, he and the other defendants were held responsible for damaging public properties during the mass protests, denting a place of worship or cemetery, unlawful possession of weapons, looting, and serious injuries. However, no evidence was presented to link the defendants to any of these alleged offences. In addition, the indictment was found to be incoherent and filled with unbridled conspiracy theories, defined by Kavala himself as “fantastical fiction” (Human Rights Watch, 2019). The Strasbourg Court confirmed that there is no reliable evidence of criminal activities, noting that Kavala was acting in the exercise of rights protected under the Convention, including freedoms of expression and assembly. The Court also denounced Turkey’s Constitutional Court for failing to deliver a rapid or efficient review of Kavala’s wrongful detention (Human Rights Watch, 2019).

Amnesty International Turkey strategy and research manager Andrew Gardner declared that “today’s judgement is not the first time the court has found that Turkey has jailed its critics, not because of offending behaviour, but in a crude attempt to try to silence them”. He continued by stating that “Osman Kavala’s release needs to be the first of many steps beginning to reverse the damage caused by the massive crackdown on civil society over the last several years and to restore respect for human rights in Turkey today” (Human Rights Watch, 2019).

Despite the ECtHR judgement having deemed that Turkey should take every measure to terminate Kavala’s pre-trial detention, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in December 2021 launched a formal infringement proceeding against Turkey after failing to release Kavala and the other defendants, which was against the judgement of the Strasbourg Court. At the Committee of Ministers’ meeting on February 2nd, 2022, the ECtHR was asked to determine whether Turkey has failed to observe Article 46 (1) of the Convention (Binding force and execution of judgments) (Amnesty International Italia, 2021). On the same day, the Committee of Ministers formally voted to open the infringement proceeding against Turkey after failing to comply with the Strasbourg Court’s 2019 judgement (Netherlands Helsinki Committee, 2022).

On Monday, April 25th, 2022, Osman Kavala and seven other co-defendants were convicted. These were Mücella Yapıcı, an architect; Can Atalay, a lawyer; Tayfun Kahraman, a city planner and academic; Çiğdem Mater, a filmmaker; Mine Özerden, a rights defender; Hakan Altınay, an educator; and Yiğit Ekmekçi, founder of a university and a businessman. The conviction was considered “a shocking miscarriage of justice” by Human Rights Watch. Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said that “the conviction of Osman Kavala and the seven others in a sham trial where wild assertions and conspiracy theories stood in for anything resembling evidence is a gross violation of human rights and ample proof that Turkey’s courts operate under instructions from the Erdogan presidency” (Human Rights Watch, 2022). In conclusion, international partners should make sure that the unfair sentence of Kavala and the other respondent has tangible political consequences on the Turkish government. Notably, the European Union’s “positive agenda” in collaboration with Turkey has proved to be utterly incompatible with Turkey’s failure to release Kavala in conformity with the Strasbourg Court’s judgement and worsened by the convictions, draconian sentencing, and detention orders for Kavala and his co-defendants (Human Rights Watch, 2022).




Amnesty International Italia. (2021, December 3). Osman Kavala: il Consiglio d’Europa lancia la procedura d’infrazione contro la Turchia. Amnesty International Italia. Retrieved on 4 May 2022 from

European Court of Human Rights. (2019, December 10). The Court finds a violation of Articles 5 and 18 of the Convention and calls for the immediate release of Mr Kavala, a businessman and human-rights defender who is detained in prison.

Human Rights Watch. (2019, December 10). Turkey: Free Osman Kavala. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved on 4 May 2022 from

‌ Human Rights Watch. (2022, April 26). Turkey: Life Sentence for Rights Defender Osman Kavala. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved on 4 May 2022 from

Netherlands Helsinki Committee. (2022, February 3). Turkey: Vote for infringement process by Council of Europe for release of Osman Kavala. Netherlands Helsinki Committee. Retrieved on 4 May 2022 from,Turkey%20should%20free%20human%20rights%20defender%20Osman%20Kavala.?msclkid=21aa6a2acb9a11ecbb40687432522ac5.

Yaman, A. (2015). The Gezi Park Protests: The impact of freedom of expression in Turkey. PEN International. Retrieved on 4 May 2022 from



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.


Coordinator - Tibet Team

Mandakini graduated with honours from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Her team analyses the human rights violations faced by Tibetans through a legal lens.

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Gabriela Johannen
Coordinator & Head Researcher – India

Gabriela Johannen is a lawyer admitted to the German bar and holds extensive knowledge in the fields of human rights, refugee law, and international law. After working for various courts and law firms in her home country, she decided to obtain an LL.M. degree from Utrecht University where she studied Public International Law with a special focus on Human Rights. Additionally, while working as a pro-bono legal advisor for refugees, she expanded her knowledge in the fields of refugee law and migration.

Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.


Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.