A trial against 16 civil society representatives over their involvement in 2013 Gezi Park protests started in Turkey this week. 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 their 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 repeatedly said, the decision to indict participants of the 2013 Gezi Park protests and to seek life sentences in a source of concern; it also 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. It reflects the values and norms Turkey itself has signed up to as a candidate country. The European Union works within the legal framework agreed with the Turkish authorities, in line with international standards, and expects that the legal and legitimate activities of independent civil society organisations can 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 fundamental freedoms 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 bilateral relations.