Ankara is facing growing national and international criticism over Wednesday’s arrest of Turkish philanthropist and businessman Osman Kavala. Kavala – a leading member of Turkey’s civic society – was detained Wednesday night at Istanbul airport. According to his lawyer, he is being held at Istanbul’s counterterrorism department.
U.S. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert voiced concern on Thursday.
“It’s just another example, right, of a lot of things taking place, of respected civil society leaders, human rights defenders, journalists we’ve all followed this story closely academics, also activists detained in that country,” she said. “The detentions are often made without very little evidence, very little transparency, and we consider that to be a very alarming trend in that country.”
The European Parliament’s rapporteur on Turkey, Kati Piri, wrote on Twitter, “Very disturbing news that Osman Kavala has been detained in Istanbul.” Piri added she would propose the European Parliament launch an urgent call for his release.
The European Union has been voicing growing concern over Turkey’s ongoing crackdown following last year’s coup, which has seen over 60,000 people arrested.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, attending a summit of EU leaders this week, described developments in Turkey as very negative and said she would propose funding to Turkey be curbed.
Kavala has set up and funded projects to bridge deep social and ethnic divides in Turkey and encourage cultural diversity. Human rights groups nationally and internationally have voiced outrage over his arrest.
Political scientist Cengiz Aktar said Kavala’s arrest is a watershed moment.
“He was one of the main movers and shakers of the Turkish liberal civil society and nothing will be like before since the custody of Osman Kavala,” he said. I think now the Turkish liberal civil society activist will be much move cautious in their actions in Turkey. It actually confirms a very frightening trend whereby the Turkish liberal civil society is targeted if not annihilated.”
Ankara strongly defends the ongoing crackdown, insisting it is facing a continuing threat from conspirators seeking to overthrow the government.
International pressure over the crackdown is likely to grow with the trial beginning Wednesday (Oct. 25) of leading Turkish members of Amnesty International and two European nationals detained at a human rights meeting.