The Council of Europe has formally notified Turkey of infringement proceedings over a failure to comply with rulings by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to release jailed philanthropist and civil society activist Osman Kavala.
In a statement on Friday, the council said Turkey’s refusal to free Kavala would now be referred back to the ECHR to judge whether the country was in breach of its legal obligations.
Member states are compelled to apply ECHR judgments under Article 46 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and the decision is the first step in the council taking disciplinary action against Turkey, including suspension of voting rights and eventual expulsion.
Kavala has been held in prison for more than four years on various charges relating to the nationwide Gezi Park protests in 2013 and the 2016 coup attempt.
The ECHR ruled for his immediate release in December 2019 citing a lack of sufficient evidence for his continued detention, which the court said aimed at silencing him while intimidating other human rights defenders.
A Turkish court rejected the latest request by Kavala’s lawyers that he be freed last Friday. He is expected to remain in prison until his next hearing on Jan. 17.
In the lead up to this week’s meeting of the Committee of Ministers, the council’s decision-making body that oversees the ECHR, human rights groups had called for tougher action against Turkey following eight previous resolutions calling for Kavala’s release.
At a committee vote on Thursday, 32 of 47 members backed starting the infringement process, clearing the necessary two-thirds majority.
In response, the Turkish Foreign Ministry rejected what it said was interference with the country’s independent judiciary.
The case will be next examined by the council at its upcoming meeting on Feb. 2, 2022.