The European Union is closely following the trial against 16 civil society representatives over their involvement in 2013 Gezi Park protests that started in Turkey recently. Among them are human rights defenders Osman Kavala and Yiğit Aksakoğlu, who have been kept in detention since November 2017 and November 2018 respectively, together with many civil society activists. The court’s decision to release Yiğit Aksakoğlu pending trial is positive news. However, the EU calls for the release without delay also of Osman Kavala for the remaining period of his trial, and notes that use of prolonged pre-trial detention can undermine the principle of presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial of the defendant.
As the European Union has repeatedly said, the decision to indict peaceful participants of the 2013 Gezi Park protests and to seek life sentences is a source of concern. It also, together with the attempts to portray the protests as a foreign plot, contributes to creating a climate of fear and to discourage the right to peaceful assembly. Furthermore, the EU deplores that being a beneficiary of legitimate foreign civil society funding has been used as an incriminating factor in this case.
Support to civil society is at the heart of the EU’s assistance to Turkey, and moreover the 129th session of the Committee of Ministers in Helsinki agreed ashared responsibility for democratic security in Europe and theneed to strengthen the protection and promotion of civil society space. The European Union calls on the Turkish authorities, in line with international standards, that the legal and legitimate activities of independent civil society organizations take place without restrictions.
Having attended the opening of the trial, the EU will continue to closely monitor this case as well as trials against journalists, members of parliament, human rights defenders, lawyers and academics with the highest level of scrutiny. Concrete and lasting improvements in the area of human rights and the rule of law, independent judiciary, including the respect of the principle of presumption of innocence and due legal process remain essential for the development of EU – Turkey relations. The European Union notes the adoption of the Justice Reform Strategy, which need to be followed up by determined and concrete steps by Turkey to implement its commitments and present clear and tangible results.