(New York) – Türkiye’s Supreme Court of Appeals yesterday upheld the life imprisonment sentence against Osman Kavala on September 28. Kavala, a cultural rights activist and founder of several publishing houses has been detained since 2017. In response, Liesl Gerntholtz, director of the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Center, said:

“The Turkish court’s decision upholding the life sentence against Osman Kavala illustrates the totality of the government’s crackdown on free expression and the breakdown of rule of law. Life behind bars for peacefully expressing oneself is unconscionable, and if this sentence stands, it will cast a shadow on all forms of cultural and creative life in Türkiye.”

“The Turkish government has the power to reverse this state of affairs and should start by freeing Osman Kavala immediately and unconditionally. Writers and other cultural workers are vital in developing a collective vision of a world anchored in human rights. This is why they frighten repressive governments.”  

Kavala was initially sentenced to life in prison in April 2022 for “attempting to overthrow the government.” The charges against him and the other defendants stem from the government’s accusations that they funded and organized the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul. Kavala and other defendants reject the allegations, saying the protests erupted spontaneously. The court also upheld an 18-year prison sentence against documentary filmmaker Mine Özerden and film producer Çiğdem Mater.

Türkiye ranked seventh in PEN America’s 2022 Freedom to Write Index, with at least 15 writers behind bars last year. PEN America’s 2021 report “Cracking Down on Creative Voices” documents the overall crackdown on writers, artists, and other creative and academic professionals in Türkiye.

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