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Osman Kavala.

Turkish Government Initiates New Attack on Arts Philanthropist Osman Kavala

The government of president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has stepped up its campaign against cultural philanthropist Osman Kavala, on February 5 declining his request for release from prison—where has been held without conviction since October 18, 2017—and instead appending charges that he participated in a thwarted 2016 coup to those stemming from the 2013 Gezi Park protests, which he was accused of instigating. Kavala was acquitted on the early charges in February 2020, but last month an appeals court, citing new evidence, ruled that the case could be retried in a lower court.

Additionally, on February 16, the Ministry of Culture filed to annul Anadolu Kültür, the Istanbul-based arts nonprofit Kavala established in 2002. The foundation is a hub of the Turkish arts scene, underwriting cultural initiatives in support of Turkish ethnic minorities, sponsoring the Spaces of Culture grant program, and operating the Diyarbakır Art Center as well as Istanbul’s Depo art space. The government alleges that the joint-stock company “carries out its activities without profit, similar to associations and foundations” and thus is in violation of article 210 of the Turkish commercial code. Anadolu Kültür responded to the filing with the assertion that it has “carried out all its operations legally and transparently,” and that the government’s financial crimes investigation unit, the MASAK, found no evidence of wrongdoing in a previous investigation.

The Turkish government’s continued efforts against Osman have drawn condemnation from around the globe. Most recently, on February 10, nearly seven months after being urged to do so by Amnesty International USA, Freedom House, PEN America, and the Project on Middle East Democracy, among other organizations, the US State Department called for his release, saying, “The specious charges against Kavala, his ongoing detention, and the continuing delays in the conclusion of his trial, including through the merger of cases against him, undermine respect for the rule of law and democracy.” State department officials “urged Turkey to abide by the European Court of Human Rights’ rulings and ensure a just, transparent, and speedy resolution to the case in line with its domestic laws and international obligations.”

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