The Gezi Park trial with 16 defendants, now referred to as a ‘joinder of action’, consists of several stages, verdicts of acquittal and retrial, merged case files. At first, 26 defendants who faced trial for “establishing and running a criminal organization” were acquitted. A new indictment was prepared after 3 years and human rights defenders were accused of acting in a hierarchical setting in partnership with Osman Kavala, who was alleged to organize and finance the Gezi protests. This trial also resulted in acquittal of all defendants only to be annulled later. A new case was opened against Osman Kavala with the charges of “attempting to subvert the Constitutional order” and “political and military espionage” and the court was asked to merge the case with the Gezi trial. On July 28, 2021, the Çarşı Case was also merged with the Gezi Case.
Gezi Park protests that led to the Gezi trial, started when the trees were cut down in the scope of Taksim Pedestrianization Project with the decision of reconstructing the Taksim Artillery Barracks in Taksim Gezi Park without a building permit, on May 28, 2013. The protests rapidly sprawled across Turkey and lasted for weeks. According to the data of the Ministry of the Interior 3.6 million people joined the demonstrations that took place in 80 cities, 5 thousand 513 people were detained, 189 of them were arrested. According to the data of Turkish Medical Association 7 thousand 478 people were injured during the protests. 8 civilians and 2 security guards died.
26 people were detained including Mücella Yapıcı, the secretary of Environmental Impact Review Advisory Panel of Chamber of Architects Istanbul Büyükkent Division, and Ali Çerkezoğlu, the secretary general of Istanbul Chamber of Medicine. They were released after their statements were taken but were faced with a lawsuit for “establishing and running a criminal organization” in March 2014. Istanbul 33rd Criminal Court of First Instance dismissed all accused on April 29, 2015.
Businessperson Osman Kavala was arrested after two weeks of detention on November 1, 2017. One of the accusations directed against him was “leading the Gezi protests”. The allegations of “attempting to disrupt the Constitutional order” and “attempting to overthrow the government” that led to Osman Kavala’s arrest were not used to file an indictment for over a year. The process leading to the indictment of the second “Gezi Trial” began when 13 human rights defenders and academics were detained by police conducting raids on their homes on November 16, 2018.
According to the memo Istanbul Police Department shared with the press, 20 people in Istanbul, Adana, Antalya and Muğla were detained for acting in a hierarchical setting in partnership with businessperson Osman Kavala who was alleged to “organize and finance the Gezi protests” and was detained without being indicted in Silivri Prison for over a year.
While 12 of the detainees were released under supervision with a foreign travel ban on November 17-18, 2018, Yiğit Aksakoğlu was arrested with the suspicion of “attempting to overthrow the government of the Republic of Turkey and to partially or completely obstruct governmental operations” by the Istanbul 6th Criminal Court of Peace.
On February 19, 2019, by the time the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office stated that in the scope of the investigation regarding the Gezi Park protests the indictment was completed and presented to the Istanbul 30th Assize Court, Osman Kavala had already spent a year and 4 months and Yigit Aksakoğlu had spent 3 months in jail.
The investigation including the evidence collected by the prosecutor Muammer Aktaş, who is wanted by the police for being a member of FETO/PDY, was completed in 2019. Istanbul 30th Assize Court accepted the indictment on March 4, 2019. In this indictment comprising 657 pages, businessperson Osman Kavala who has been under custody since November 1, 2017 and 16* people including 4 detainees, one of whom had been arrested (Çiğdem Mater Utku, Ali Hakan Altınay, Yiğit Aksakoğlu, Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi), were accused of “attempting to overthrow the government of the Republic of Turkey and to partially or completely obstruct governmental operations” and the court was asked to sentence them to aggravated life imprisonment.
The names of Recep Tayyip Erdogan who was the prime minister during Gezi protests and 27 members of the cabinet as well as 746 others were listed on the “Sufferer Plaintiffs” section of the indictment.
The first hearing of the case was held at Istanbul 30th Assize Court on June 24-25, 2019. After nine people presented their defenses in the hearing, the judges ruled in Yiğit Aksakoğlu’s release under supervision while they ruled in the continuation of Osman Kavala’s detention.
The third hearing was conducted on October 8, 2019 with the newly assigned judges. The hearing in which the interrogations of defendants were carried out, didn’t result in Osman Kavala’s release.
On December 10, 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) decided that the European Convention of Human Rights was violated due to Osman Kavala’s arrest for political reasons without reasonable suspicion and the Constitutional Court’s failure to review the application in a reasonable time.
At the hearing on December 24, 2019, Osman Kavala wasn’t released despite the ECtHR ruling. The following hearing was held on January 28, 2020. Once again, the court didn’t rule in Osman Kavala’s release.
The prosecutor stated his opinion on the merits on February 6, 2020 and requested;
- The prosecution of Ayşe Pınar Alabora, Can Dündar, Gökçe Yılmaz, Handan Meltem Arıkan, Hanzade Hikmet Germiyanoğlu, Memet Ali Alabora and İnanç Ekmekçi, to be separated from the case and the delay of the execution of the arrest warrant against them.
- Osman Kavala, Yigit Aksakoğlu and Mücella Yapıcı to be sentenced for “attempting to overthrow the government of the Republic of Turkey and to partially or completely obstruct governmental operations forcefully and violently”, in reference to Article 312 of the Turkish Criminal Code.
- Çiğdem Mater, Ali Hakan Altınay, Mine Özerden, Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman and Yiğit Ekmekçi to be sentenced for “attempting to overthrow the government of the Republic of Turkey and to partially or completely obstruct governmental operations forcefully and violently”, in reference to Article 312 of the Turkish Criminal Code, as helpers in accordance with Article 39 of the Turkish Criminal Code.
At the sixth hearing of the case held on February 18, 2020, Osman Kavala and 8 other defendants were acquitted.
However, before Kavala was released, he got arrested again due to another investigation. The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office sent Kavala, who was detained again on the same day in Silivri, into court for arrest. On February 19, 2020, The Court of Peace on duty ordered Kavala’s arrest for “forcefully and violently attempting to disrupt the Constitutional order of the Republic of Turkey” in the scope of 15 July investigation due to “the gravity of the crime and the risk of absconding since he was acquitted of the charges he faced in Gezi trial”.
The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office requested Kavala’s imprisonment for 20 years for “espionage” (Article 328) and aggravated life imprisonment for “subverting the Constitutional order” (Article 309).
On January 22, 2021, 3rd Criminal Law Chamber of Istanbul Regional Court of Justice revoked the verdict of acquittal reached in Gezi trial. The Chamber ordered the case file to be sent to the Court of First Instance for reexamination and judgement. Supplying the missing evidence, it was decided to proceed with the case. The 36th Assize Court trying Kavala decided for the joinder of the case regarding the crimes of “attempting to subvert the Constitutional order” and “political and military espionage” with the Gezi trial at the hearing that took place on February 5, 2021.
Another merger decision came on April 28, 2021. The case of Can Dündar, Mehmet Ali Alabora, Ayşe Pınar Alabora, Gökçe Tüylüoğlu, Handan Meltem Arıkan, Hanzade Hikmet Germiyanoğlu and İnanç Ekmekçi, who were tried in the Gezi trial on the allegation of ‘attempting to overthrow the government’ and whose files were separated ‘because they were abroad’ merged with the main Gezi Trial by the decision of Istanbul 30th High Criminal Court.
The first hearing of the new Gezi trial with 16 defendants after the merging of the files was held on May 21, 2021. The court ruled to keep Kavala behind bars by a majority of votes, with the chief judge dissenting the decision. The next hearing was scheduled for August 6, 2021, but a new merger decision has pushed the hearing date forward.
On July 28, 2021, after the 16th Penal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the acquittal, it was approved to merge the case, in which 35 defendants, including Beşiktaş’s supporters group Çarşı, were on trial for the Gezi protests, with the Gezi Park main trial. The Supreme Court requested that both cases be joined.
Following the merger decision, Kavala’s hearing scheduled for August 6 was canceled and the new hearing date was October 8, 2021. At the hearing on October 8, Kavala’s lawyer Köksal Bayraktar demanded that the files be separated and his client released. But the court decided to continue Kavala’s detention on the grounds that there was “strong suspicion of crime and concrete evidence”. In the second hearing on November 26, 2021, the decision remained the same.
The fifth hearing of the merged case was held on February 21, 2022. The prosecutor of the trial demanded that the files of the defendants of the Çarşı trial be separated as of the current stage. The court decided to continue Kavala’s detention and to separate the files. The next hearing will be held on March 21, 2022.
Announcing his opinion on March 4, 2022, the prosecutor demanded that Osman Kavala and Mücella Yapıcı be sentenced to aggravated life sentence on the charge of “attempting to overthrow the Government of the Republic of Turkey by using force and violence”. For the other defendants, Çiğdem Mater Utku, Ali Hakan Altınay, Mine Özerden, Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman, and Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi, he demanded from 15 up to 20 years in prison with the charge of “aiding the attempt to overthrow the Government of the Republic of Turkey by using force and violence“.
The judgment hearing of the case was held on 22 and 25 April 2022.
Osman Kavala, who had been imprisoned for 1637 days at that time, was sentenced to aggravated life sentence without any reduction of discretion on the charge of attempting to overthrow the government (TCK 312), Mücella Yapıcı, Çiğdem Mater, Ali Hakan Altınay, Mine Özerden, Tayfun Kahraman, Can Atalay and Yiğit Ali Emekçi were sentenced to 18 years in prison and arrested for aiding the attempt to overthrow the government.
The decision was taken by majority vote. One of the member judges annotated their acquittal, stating that he was of the opinion that the detained defendant Osman Kavala should be released and the other defendants should not be arrested, since there was not enough evidence to punish the defendants for the crimes charged against them.
There was tension in the hall after the court board announced the verdict of conviction. While saying goodbye to those who will be sent to prison, the slogans “Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance” were chanted.
In the decision hearing, it came to the agenda that member judge Murat Bircan was a candidate for parliamentary candidate from the AKP in 2018. The lawyers demanded the withdrawal of the tribunal as the independence of the judiciary was violated but the court rejected the demand.
After the decision, Taksim Solidarity made an announcement saying, “We are living through one of the darkest days of our country in the name of democracy, in the name of law, in the name of justice. We know that this decision of the court is not legally legitimate. This decision is not a legal one, but a political one, we reject it. We believe in the rule of law, seek justice in all circumstances. As the institutions defending democracy, as the democratic forces of this country, we reject this decision. We are not leaving Çağlayan, we are raising our voices against this unlawfulness! We are at the Çağlayan Courthouse for the Justice Watch.”
- The list of “Suspects” in the indictment received on March 4, 2019: M. Osman Kavala, A. Mücella Yapıcı, A. Pınar Alabora, Can Dündar, Çiğdem Mater Utku, Gökçe Yılmaz, H. Meltem Arıkan, Hanzade Hikmet Germiyanoğlu, İnanç Ekmekçi, Ali Hakan Altınay, Mehmet Ali Alabora, Mine Özerden, Ş. Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman, Yiğit Aksakoğlu, Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi.