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Turkish philanthropist faces life in jail over 2013 Gezi Park protests

Osman Kavala was charged, along with 15 other defendants, of attempting to overthrow the government
A poster featuring jailed businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala during a press conference of his lawyers (AFP)

Turkish prosecutors sought life sentences for 16 people on Wednesday, including philanthropist Osman Kavala, over their involvement in the 2013 Gezi Park protests.

Kavala, who has been in custody for more than a year, is accused of helping fund and organise the 2013 anti-government protests and of being involved in the July 2016 coup attempt.

According to the indictment, the defendants had prepared for the Gezi Park protests since 2011 and were "top management" organisers.

Three of those facing possible life sentences are Mucella Yapici, an architect, Tayfun Kahraman, a city planner, and Can Atalay, a lawyer, who were members of the the Taksim Solidarity group that helped coordinate the protests.

State-run news service TRT said other defendants included well-known actor Mehmet Ali Alabora and journalist Can Dundar, who is currently living in exile in Germany after being tried in absentia for other cases.

A criminal court will decide within 15 days whether the case should be brought to court after examining the indictment.

The 2013 Gezi Park protests originally began as a demonstration against the demolition of one of the last green spaces in Istanbul, but quickly spiralled into protests against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's rule.

More than 3 million people were involved in the demonstrations across the country.

Milena Buyum, a campaigner for Amnesty International in Turkey, slammed the announcement on Twitter, as well as Kavala and other activists' lengthy pre-trial detentions.

"Today, Osman Kavala marked 477 days in pre-trial detention. That’s almost 16 months, without knowing the detail of what he is being accused of, and therefore not being able to prepare a defence... 477 days of de facto punishment, ahead of any conviction," she wrote.

'Who is behind him?'

Kavala, a high-profile and respected civil society financier, was remanded in custody in November 2017.

He was chairman of the Anadolu Kultur (Anatolian Culture) foundation, a non-profit organisation founded in 2002 which aims to "develop mutual understanding and dialogue and overcome regional differences and prejudices" in Turkey and the wider region.

Kavala has repeatedly been accused of having links to the Hungarian-born financier George Soros, blamed by numerous governments for fomenting unrest and promoting "globalist" politics.

"Who is behind him? The famous Hungarian Jew Soros," said Erdogan in November.

"This is a man who assigns people to divide nations and shatter them. He has so much money and he spends it this way."

That same month, Soros's Open Society Foundation said it would cease activities in the country follow Erdogan's comments.

Hakan Altinay and Gokce Yilmaz, the former directors of the Open Society Foundation's Turkish branch, are also among those facing life sentences.