The Turkish Government Is Trying to Shut Down an Arts Organization Founded by Activist and Political Prisoner Osman Kavala

Kavala has been imprisoned for more than three and a half years for specious charges brought by President Erdoğan’s government.

Osman Kavala. Courtesy of the International Peace and Reconciliation Initiative.

The Turkish government is seeking to dissolve an arts organization founded by Osman Kavala, the businessman and philanthropist who has been held prisoner in the country for more than three and a half years.

On February 16, Turkey’s Ministry of Commerce filed a lawsuit seeking the “annulment” of Anadolu Kültür, the Istanbul organization that Kavala founded in 2002 to sponsor arts initiatives throughout Turkey. The filing claims that the organization was created as a joint-stock company, but operates today as a nonprofit, which  is in violation of the Turkish commercial code.

But many critics outside of Turkey have been quick to identify this tactic as the latest example of the state artlessly massaging the law to punish Kavala, who has been detained in isolation since 2017 under a series of increasingly specious indictments. 

“For the first time in the history of the Republic of Turkey, a lawsuit is filed against a company on the grounds that it ‘carries out its activities without profit, similar to associations and foundations,’” Anadolu Kültür said in a statement, calling the suit “unlawful.”

“Our company has carried out all its operations legally and transparently since its establishment in 2002.” 

In November 2017, Kavala was charged with violating two articles of the penal code for his role in a spate of demonstrations against urban development, censorship, and other issues in Istanbul in 2013. The state sought life sentences for Kavala and 15 others, claiming they were trying to overthrow the government. 

But the government lacked evidence and the court acquitted Kavala last February. Still, he remained in detention and, in March, the state brought charges of espionage against him. Again, there was little evidence to support the claims.  

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has on multiple occasions promoted a conspiracy theory that Kavala belongs to a powerful Jewish cabal, headed by billionaire philanthropist George Soros, that’s trying to destroy the Turkish government. 

“The person who financed terrorists during the Gezi protests is currently in prison. And who is behind him? The famous Hungarian Jew George Soros,” Erdoğan once said. “This is a man who was assigned to divide nations and shatter them he has so much money and he is spending it in these ways.”

Kavala was a founding member of the Turkish branch of the Open Society Foundation, a grant-making organization founded by Soros. The branch closed in 2018.

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