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Turkish prosecutors seek 'aggravated' life sentence for philanthropist Osman Kavala

New indictment also targets American academic Henri Barkey as conspirator in 2016 coup attempt
A journalist stands in front of a poster featuring jailed businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala during a press conference of his lawyers (AFP)

Turkish prosecutors are seeking an "aggravated" life sentence against businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, who has already spent 1,074 days in prison accused trying to overthrow the government.

The new indictment submitted to the Istanbul 36th Heavy Penal Court on Thursday also implicates American academic Henri Barkey, who it claims was helped by Kavala in his "spying activities" in Turkey.

It accuses Kavala of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and called for an additional 20 years in prison on charges of “political espionage”.

An "aggravated" life sentence, usually reserved for political prisoners in Turkey, means no prospect of an early release.

The businessman, a renowned pro-democracy campaigner and advocate of cultural dialogue, was initially prosecuted for supporting the 2013 Gezi Park anti-government protests, which saw millions taking to the streets of Turkey in opposition to then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Kavala was acquitted of these charges in February, but was immediately taken into police custody again as part of another investigation linked to July 2016 coup attempt.

Prosecutors accuse Barkey, who is Cohen Professor of International Relations at Lehigh University, of being a foreign agent and involved in plotting the coup.

He has in the past dismissed such accusations as "sensationalist conspiracy theories" aimed at bullying the US into handing over Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of the Turkish government who they blame for orchestrating the coup attempt.

'Red Soros'

Kavala's imprisonment has provoked harsh condemnations both domestically and internationally.

Last month the Council of Europe said that Turkey must comply with a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights and "ensure the immediate release" of Kavala.

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Erdogan has branded Kavala the "red Soros of Turkey" in reference to his links to Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros, who is accused in a number of countries of attempting to foment unrest.

Kavala's wife Ayse Bugra has described his imprisonment as "torture" and has cited concerns about the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in a number of Turkey's prisons.

"He has maintained his moral strength and tries to keep his sanity especially by reading and trying to write, although he does not have a computer," she told Middle East Eye in August, adding that Kavala was allowed one weekly call to his family.

"He stays alone in a cell with a toilet and shower. He shares a small courtyard with another prisoner. He does not complain about the physical conditions and food - but then, he never complains anyway."