Below is the translation of the interview with Osman Kavala by Murat Sabuncu, originally published on January 31, 2024, in T24.

What are your thoughts on the series of trials following your acquittal by the Istanbul 30th High Criminal Court in the Gezi trial on February 18, 2020? Additionally, what is your response to the claims that these trials were aimed at you personally?

Following President Erdoğan’s description of the acquittal verdict in the first Gezi trial as an organized attempt to release me from prison, the subsequent legal proceedings have evolved into a process of manipulation of laws, fabrication of charges that are not in accordance with their legal definitions in order to prolong my stay in prison. This is undeniably a violation of my rights, an assault upon my personality and dignity. But it also indicates ulterior motives beyond persecuting me as an individual.

In 2017, I was arrested on two separate charges: organizing the Gezi protests and participating in the July 15 coup attempt. The intention behind these charges was to establish a link between these two events, but this attempt ultimately failed. Nonetheless, the Gezi protests were criminalized under the false narrative that they were planned and staged by foreign powers, thereby setting a precedent for bogus charges. 


What significance do you attach to the statement made by the Court of Cassation in its decision, asserting that “the defendant organized the Gezi Park protests through the Open Society Foundation, the representative office in Turkey of the Open Society Institute founded by international speculator George Soros”?

This narrative emerged during the Gezi protests and it draws on a conspiracy theory of unknown origin, alleging that George Soros had been the central figure in the popular movements of the Arab Spring. It was fabricated without evidence even before the deciphering of the wiretaps which were illegally obtained. The indictment is based on this narrative. In the decision of the 3rd Criminal Chamber of the Court of Cassation, which upheld the convictions, the Gezi protests are characterized as an adapted version of the Arab Spring.

On numerous occasions, including in my defense, I’ve drawn parallels between the practice of accusing and convicting individuals based on the opinion that they have criminal intentions and, in the future, will commit a criminal act, and the Nazi practice of enemy criminal law. However, historically the use of conspiracy theories within the judiciary processes goes back even further.

During the Middle Ages in Europe, separate and different religious movements that challenged the authority of the Church in reaction to abuses by religious officials and the increased interference of the Church in people’s lives were often labeled as agents of a grand conspiracy orchestrated in collaboration with Satan in order to dismantle the Catholic Church. Embracing this conspiracy theory, the role of the Inquisition Courts evolved to uncover and persecute the heretics who were mostly hiding themselves among simple people. Sustaining suspicion of heresy through these new judicial structures and branding dissenters as conspirators also served the purpose of legitimizing the newly centralized power of the Church and the monarchs and suppressing resistance to their authority.

Conspiracy theories, or tales, which were fabricated against Jews during the same era, were given modern content in the 19th century and, as history has shown, the Nazis made use of these narratives to consolidate their power. I think the fact that George Soros is Jewish has given inspiration to those fabricating the accusations against me. In the prosecutor’s opinion submitted to the Istanbul 13th Criminal Court, it is alleged that the Open Society Institute aims to consolidate its global rule over the populations by means of corrupting their culture. The opinion submitted by the Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation is in line with this narrative.

The Gezi protests began, spread, and ended (upon the cancellation of the construction project in the park by a court decision) in public. Who took part in which protests and what kind of behavior they manifested throughout the protests are well-documented in the police records. Information regarding the financial support provided by the Open Society Foundation to various civil society projects had always been publicly disclosed. The Foundation underwent multiple audits. Given these facts, I find the judiciary’s adoption and propagation of such a conspiracy theory without any concrete evidence quite striking.


In the Court of Cassation decision, there is a section that asserts, “The Open Society Foundation, which claims to carry out activities under the name of ‘supporting the development of an open society’ by focusing on citizens of Kurdish and Armenian origin in our country, is used as an enormous social engineering tool by its founder George Soros.” Does this suggest that the work you carry out with Kurds and Armenians is also deemed suspicious? In your opinion, what is implied by the term “social engineering”?

Social engineering refers to the policies of those in power to impose new values, ideas, and behavior patterns on society in accordance with a particular ideological perspective. These policies are implemented through state institutions. State-controlled media outlets and educational institutions often play pivotal roles in this process. In my opinion, the utilization of conspiracy theories in politics and the judiciary falls within the scope of social engineering, as they serve the aim of marginalization of certain segments of society by others and the cultivation of prejudices.

The indictments and the prosecutors’ opinions allege that, through Anadolu Kültür which I was chairing, I carried out projects “supporting segregation” and “inciting hatred and hostility” behind the veil of cultural and artistic activities. The claim that expressing the problems and experiences of Kurdish and Armenian citizens through art weakens their ties with the state reflects an ideological perspective. These citizens are portrayed as devoid of agency and free will. Such reasoning which suggests that citizens who participated in the Gezi protests were under my influence is both illogical and insulting.

Anadolu Kültür was founded in 2002, and the Diyarbakır Arts Center was opened in the same year. All activities conducted by Anadolu Kültür have been public and are documented on the organization’s website. Remarkably, the drafters of the indictment examining Anadolu Kultur’s website claim to have exposed a hidden intention and plan that went unnoticed by any official for two decades. Thanks to the aforementioned conspiracy theory at their disposal that apparently sheds light on everything.


The decision includes another allegation, claiming that you provided financial support to the Gezi Park protests: “That the defendant Mehmet Osman Kavala financially supported the Gezi Park protests, he was the person to whom the protesters turned to meet all their needs, he provided materials such as gas masks and goggles used by the protesters during the clashes with the police, as well as food, breakfast, a table, and a sound system for the Gezi Park to facilitate coordination among the protesters...” What are your thoughts on this section?

Anadolu Kültür’s accounts have undergone numerous audits, and the MASAK report confirmed no financial activity linked to the Gezi protests. It is totally illogical to suggest that I fulfilled the needs of the hundreds of thousands of protesters solely with the items, cloth mouth masks purchased from the pharmacy, a table for food distribution, and a loudspeaker I brought to Gezi Park to enable people there to listen to music.


The Court of Cassation described you as “the mentor behind the scenes of the whole process,” stating: “Although he was actively involved in the decision-making and financial support processes of the Gezi Park events, to avoid exposure, he did not take any official action. He did not physically attend the locations where acts of violence occurred, yet he was omnipresent behind the scenes on every platform, serving as the principal mentor of the process.” What are your thoughts on this?

The drafters of the indictment allege that I organized the Gezi protests. However, they have failed to establish the existence of a structure that operates with hierarchical relations, let alone an organization pursuing the aim of overthrowing the government. The wiretaps presented in the indictment clearly indicate that I was not involved in the organization of any mass protest and I did not hold a position to give directives to anyone.

The absence of such a structure renders baseless the allegation that I was the leader of an organization. Thus, a vague concept of mentorship, supposedly having influence over all protesters, has been invented. However, this conceptualization does not diminish the requirement to produce evidence for the accusation. Mentoring is not like being an abstract source of inspiration, it entails conveying concrete suggestions and ideas. It must be demonstrated that the remarks I have made served to incite attempts to overthrow the government or engage in violent acts. However, in one of the conversations cited in the indictment, which might be described as mentoring, I explicitly state my disapproval of actions that could be perceived as attempts to provoke an economic crisis in order to destabilize the government, as highlighted by the President of the Constitutional Court in his dissenting opinion. I express hope that the energy generated by the protests would serve as a dynamic of democratic pressure. In another conversation, I discuss potential candidates for the upcoming local elections and the rationale behind my preferences. The coining of “mentorship” as a novel criminal activity does not reinforce the conspiracy theory; rather, it renders it even more unsubstantiated.


During the Gezi protests, there were derogatory writings on the walls, including some targeting government officials, their relatives, and even the President’s wife. For a while, it was mentioned that you attempted to remove these writings and even cleaned them yourself. What were your thoughts when you encountered these writings?

I previously mentioned that during the Gezi Park protests, there were cardboards affixed to the trees in the park with positive messages, with a touch of humor. They were reflecting the atmosphere, the solidarity, and the optimistic outlook shared by the young people at Gezi Park. However, in certain areas around Taksim, there were also wall writings of a derogatory nature that no civil or political organization would endorse. With a can of spray paint, even just one person can quickly create numerous writings; and especially if they are on prominent structures or walls along busy streets, these catch attention and are remembered. These markings and writings, along with behaviors that could be categorized as vandalism were manifested by only a very small fraction of the protesters, but they contributed to negative perceptions and provided material for those seeking to discredit the protests. However, it’s important to note that the excessive use of force by security forces was not prompted by these, but rather the fact that the protests were developing into mass scale.

There were young people who took it upon themselves to cover up or remove such writings around Gezi Park. I was glad to see them.


Contemplating the idea of making a film and participating in international festivals was also deemed “suspicious.” What were your thoughts upon reading this?

This so-called evidence was used against both myself and Çiğdem Mater. Mater’s intention to make a film about Gezi and her meeting with a festival director regarding this film project are the sole evidence on which her 18-year sentence is based. This clearly demonstrates the approach with which the indictment was prepared and the convictions were delivered. Normal activities of individuals were given meanings in line with the conspiracy theory, to make them appear as evidence.

Let me remind you of another point: The indictment alleges that the film and a new TV channel to be established would serve to continue the Gezi uprising. It also states that these projects could not be realized due to lack of funding. According to the indictment, George Soros, in collaboration with me, allegedly planned and financed the Gezi uprising; yet he had not transferred a seemingly insignificant amount of funds to me for the realization of the film and the establishment of the TV channel, which according to the indictment would have been instrumental for the success of the Gezi insurgency. The drafters of the indictment demonstrate such confidence in their conspiracy theory that beyond disregarding the need to seek concrete evidence, they do not feel the need to maintain logical coherence between their allegations.


The Court of Cassation also referenced your meeting with the US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland on 01.11.2013 at the US Consulate General in Istanbul, in its “description of the crime.” What is your response to this?

During Victoria Nuland’s visit, I was invited to attend meetings she held with other representatives of civil society organizations at the US Consulate. I have also participated in similar meetings with representatives of civil society organizations when visitors came from other countries. I know that doing this in countries like Iran and others can lead to imprisonment. However, I never imagined that attending such a meeting in Turkey would be used as evidence in a criminal charge.


You recently had a meeting with Nacho Sanchez Amor, the European Parliament Rapporteur on Turkey, at Silivri Prison. He was the first member of the European Parliament to be granted permission to meet with you. Following the meeting, he issued the following statement: “I just met with Osman Kavala at Silivri prison. Such a remarkable person. I want to thank the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for facilitating this meeting. I hope this openness is a sign of a new period for Türkiye - EU relations, in the context of recent EU Joint Communication on Türkiye.” Do you believe this meeting signifies that the decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) regarding you, which has not yet been implemented, could now be implemented? What topics did you discuss during your meeting?

Before Nacho Sanchez Amor, a permission was also granted to two rapporteurs from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe had also visited me a few years ago. While granting permission demonstrates a willingness to maintain positive relations, it does not necessarily indicate that the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights regarding my case will be implemented. This could rather be interpreted as a gesture in line with the attitude “We want to have good relations with you, let us not create problems because of one or two people.” Mr. Sanchez Amor had previously applied for a visit a couple of times, which were unsuccessful. Therefore, it is understandable for him to express gratitude for being granted permission and to express hope that this will be a sign of the implementation of the ECtHR judgment. During our conversation, we discussed the judicial process and I conveyed my assessments to him. However, I did not get the impression that he was very optimistic about the implementation of the ECtHR judgments.


By the way, it’s noteworthy that Nacho Sanchez thanked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs among others. Previously, Minister Hakan Fidan addressed the Parliament’s Planning and Budget Commission, stating that “the Kavala case was politicized in Europe, and as a result, it continues to evoke political reactions in Türkiye.” How do you assess both Fidan’s statement and this subsequent expression of gratitude? Do you perceive any changes in the situation?

The Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that “when a case is politicized, the response would also be political.” This means, reactions or demands from Europe that the government deems political, serve as a rationalization for keeping an innocent person in prison. Although the Minister cited initiatives by deputies in European parliaments as examples of the politicization of my case, what the ruling circles truly mean by politicization is the European Court’s ruling in 2019. During a television program on January 6 this year, the Minister of Justice stated that the ECtHR approached my case politically and failed to assess the evidence against me from a legal standpoint. However, the ECtHR judgment, taken unanimously including the judge representing Turkey, had explicitly stated that the evidence they examined were not good enough to raise reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed, thereby rendering the evidence insufficient.

From what I gather, the government wants the European Court of Human Rights to accept its official narrative that the Gezi protests constituted an uprising. In this way, the Court is expected to respect the attitude of the Turkish judiciary that considers these findings as proper evidence. However, when the ECtHR refrains from adopting this perspective and instead focuses on determining whether there is a link between these findings and any criminal act, the government perceives the ECtHR’s behavior as political.

In its 2019 judgment, the ECtHR also concluded that my arrest was politically motivated. The government, of course, views this assessment as an interference in its internal affairs, its right to declare certain citizens guilty as it deems necessary.


Turkey is currently in an environment where the decisions of the Constitutional Court are not being complied with. Likewise, the ECtHR judgment on your case is not being complied with. With only the Constitutional Court and the ECtHR remaining as avenues for recourse after the Court of Cassation, how do you feel about these non-compliances?

The failure to comply with the judgments of the ECtHR and the Constitutional Court signifies a refusal to acknowledge the binding nature of the legal norms safeguarding human rights as outlined in the European Convention on Human Rights and our Constitution. It is deeply concerning that political influence on the judiciary is escalating, and there is a growing prevalence of an approach among members of the judiciary that prioritizes political considerations over legal norms.


After the Court of Cassation’s ruling, you stated, “The Court of Cassation’s decision to uphold the verdicts is a product of an understanding that neither values the principles of law nor human life. This judgment is a striking demonstration of the fact that convicting individuals without sufficient evidence has become a norm in the judiciary.” You have spent 2,235 days in prison since October 2017. You are now facing a new year in prison for the seventh time, and you are alone. How does this situation affect you? How did you welcome the new year?”

I spent the New Year’s Eve reading a book, as I do on evenings when I don’t watch films on TV. This year, as you know, TRT didn’t broadcast the New Year concerts of the Berlin and Vienna symphony orchestras.

Staying alone is not what troubles me; I’ve grown accustomed to it. However, what’s disturbing is that upon the finalization of the conviction, I am now able to meet my wife only once every two weeks instead of every week, and phone calls are also limited to once every two weeks. While my mother can’t engage in proper phone conversations anymore, hearing my voice still brings her comfort. And feeling that she’s still with us brings me comfort.

I was sixty years old when I was put in prison. A significant portion of the time I could have dedicated to civil society activities has been spent, and continues to be spent, behind bars. Some of the plans my wife and I had made have also become void. Undoubtedly, I am not the only one facing injustice at an older age. Eighty-year-old people are being incarcerated under vague charges lacking concrete evidence. I see these as manifestations of an understanding that disregards the value of human life and human dignity, as well as the norms of law. The diminishing regard for human life is not only perceivable within the judiciary but also across other realms of the public administration.


What did you miss the most?

What I miss the most is being at home with my wife. I miss living with the confidence that my freedom won’t be arbitrarily restricted.


On February 18, 2020, unaware that you would be arrested again, anticipating your release, you entrusted the two small snails that had emerged from your food, providing you companionship, to your family for their journey home. Yet, you were not released. Do you currently have new companions? How are the two little snails you sent home?

Let me make a correction. The snails didn’t emerge from my meal; they arrived in my room clinging to the leaves of arugula I had ordered from the prison cafeteria. My wife released them into the garden when the weather warmed up, but unfortunately, they disappeared.

In the spring, sparrows settle in the nests in the upper corners of the courtyard. This year, a group of sparrows also visit my courtyard during the winter months. They eat the breadcrumbs I leave in front of my window while I take a walk in the courtyard.

 Original article in Turkish