The U.S. State Department has said it is deeply concerned by charges against scholar Henri Barkey and philanthropist Osman Kavala issued by Turkish prosecutors earlier this month, describing them as without merit and apparently politically motivated.
On Oct. 8, Istanbul’s chief public prosecutor unveiled a new indictment demanding three counts of life in prison for the pair, including allegations that Kavala had previously been acquitted of in the so-called Gezi Trials, where he stood accused of having funded and organised the anti-government protests that drew millions of Turkish citizens to the streets in 2013.
Initially spontaneous demonstrations to protect a small green park in Istanbul’s Taksim square, the protests quickly spread across the country following brutal confrontations with the security forces. Although never proven to have been organised by any particular person or group, the government has accused dissident figures, like Kavala, of organising them.
A Washington Post editorial last week blasted the Turkish government for its latest charges against Kavala and Barkey, who is a former senior official at the U.S. State Department. The Post said that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan imprisons anyone for any reason, including self-evident nonsense.
The editorial also criticised the Trump administration for not doing enough to stop Erdoğan’s relentless attacks and pressure on his critics in Turkey. U.S. government silence, the editorial argued, paves the way for such “crackpot criminal allegations” levelled against U.S. citizen Barkey and Kavala, who has been jailed for 1,079 days.
In an email responding to Ahval’s question over both the editorial and the indictment, a State Department spokesperson said: “We are very concerned by these reports. The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens is the top priority of the Department of State. We remain deeply concerned by the latest additions to Turkey’s baseless accusations against U.S. citizen Dr Henri Barkey”. It added that the charges directed at Dr Barkey are “without merit and appear to be politically motivated”.
“The United States has consistently, publicly and privately, called upon Turkey to comply with its own commitments to justice and rule of law and to release Osman Kavala from detention. The State Department Spokesperson’s most public statement on his case was released on July 27, 2020,” the statement to Ahval continued.
Speaking to an Ahval podcast following the latest indictment, Barkey said: “The 64-page indictment will go into the annals of jurisprudence worldwide as probably the most ridiculous”, and added, “everything they say is conjecture, they have no proof for any of the accusations”.
Kavala shares the current accusations against Barkey of military and political espionage, as well as attempting to overthrow the constitutional order in Turkey.
Experts have harshly criticised the indictment, noting that there is nothing demonstrating any criminal activity with regards to the failed coup attempt in 2016, in which over 250 people were killed. The Turkish government maintains that the coup was organised by the Islamist Gulen movement, which it has designated as a terrorist organisation referred to by the acronym “FETÖ”.
Part of the accusations stem from Barkey’s July 2016 visit to Istanbul, where he ran into Kavala at a restaurant. On the night of the coup, Barkey, along with a dozen academics, was on an island near Istanbul for a conference on the Iran nuclear agreement and its impact on the region. Born in Turkey, Barkey speaks fluent Turkish and, like many experts in their field, was known to frequently visit the country.
On July 27, U.S. State Department spokesperson Cale Brown issued a statement coinciding with Kavala’s 1000th day in prison, which called on Turkey to comply with its commitments to justice and rule of law and allow for his release. It was the first time the department had condemned the indictment in an exclusive statement.