Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared ten ambassadors “persona non grata” after they advocated for the release of a jailed philanthropist, reports The New York Times. Businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala has been in jail in Turkey since 2017, despite having never been convicted of a crime. Initially jailed on charges related to the 2013 Gezi Park protests, Kavala was acquitted in 2020 and immediately rearrested for charges relating to his supposed involvement in a 2016 coup attempt.
Ambassadors from the United States, France, and Germany were among the states that released a statement in support of Kavala, reports The Associated Press. The statement also had support from the ambassadors of the Netherlands, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, and New Zealand. “The continuing delays in his trial, including by merging different cases and creating new ones after a previous acquittal, cast a shadow over respect for democracy, the rule of law and transparency in the Turkish judiciary system,” the statement read. “Noting the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights on the matter, we call for Turkey to secure his urgent release.”
In response to western allies calling for Kavala’s release, Turkey’s President Erdogan stated that he would no longer allow “bandits, murderers and terrorists” in his country, according to CNN. He then declared the ten ambassadors to be “persona non grata” in Turkey, meaning they would be banished from the country indefinitely.
Kavala has said that it would be “meaningless” for him to attend his upcoming trial based on the comments made by Erdogan, according to Reuters. He further called the statements made by Erdogan humiliating and defaming and expressed worries that they would influence his trial as it progresses.
Besides the ten ambassadors who released the statement calling for Kavala’s release, countless human rights organizations have also been advocating for his release for years. France 24 reports that The European Court of Human Rights called for his release in 2019, stating that his incarceration was an attempt to silence him and was not supported by evidence. In addition, the Council of Europe has threatened to suspend Turkey’s voting rights, and potentially their membership, if Kavala is not released by the end of November 2021.
“His detention was intended to punish him as a critic of the government,” The European Court of Human Rights told the New York Times. “[It was] to reduce him to silence as an NGO activist and human-rights defender, to dissuade others from engaging in such activities and to paralyze civil society in the country.”
Kavala has held very left-leaning, secular elite political views throughout his career, which are the opposite views of the president and current government, The New York Times continues. Kavala has become a symbol in Turkey for Erdogan’s crackdown following the 2016 coup attempt. In 2013, The New York Times reported thousands of arrests following the Gezi Park protests, which hoped to stop the building of a shopping mall; Deutsche Welle reported even more following the 2016 coup attempt. Erdogan ordered a police riot to storm the center of the movement, which set off chaos in downtown Istanbul. A recent U.S. State Department report called out suspicious deaths of persons in custody, forced disappearances, torture, and arbitrary arrests as NATO member Turkey’s most pressing human rights issues.