(New York, NY) — In response to news that Istanbul’s chief prosecutor is seeking aggravated life sentences plus 20 years for detained philanthropist Osman Kavala and scholar Henri Barkey, PEN America unequivocally condemns these absurd charges and calls on the government to release Kavala and drop all charges against both men.

“This new indictment is yet another egregious attack on the human rights of Osman Kavala, who has dedicated his life to promoting cultural collaborations and advocating for the rights of people in Turkey,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of PEN America’s free expression at risk programs. “It is a brazen demonstration of the Turkish government’s disregard for the most basic of rights, and of ongoing efforts to criminalize and punish free expression and legitimate criticism of the government. We call for the immediate release of Osman Kavala, and for all absurd charges against both him and Professor Barkey to be dropped.”

Last week, the Istanbul Heavy Penal Court No.36 accepted baseless renewed charges against writer, philanthropist, and activist Kavala, who has been unjustly held in pre-trial detention for over three years. Barkey, an American scholar the Turkish government accuses of orchestrating the July 2016 attempted coup, has been charged in absentia. An Istanbul prosecutor is seeking aggravated life sentences plus 20 years for both Barkey and Kavala for “espionage” and “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” for their alleged roles in the 2016 coup attempt. Barkey remains in the U.S., but if convicted, Kavala could face life in prison with no potential for release. A first trial hearing for both men has been scheduled for December 18.

Kavala was initially arrested in 2017 on charges that he was involved in orchestrating the 2013 Gezi Park protests, and has been held in Istanbul’s Silivri prison since. He was held in pre-trial detention until February 2020, when charges against him and eight other activists were dropped. However, immediately upon his release, the Turkish government levied new charges against him for alleged involvement in the 2016 attempted military coup against President Erdogan’s AKP-run government, and he remains in detention on the basis of these new accusations.

In late September and early October, just weeks before these charges were accepted by the Istanbul court, the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers renewed calls for Turkey to comply with the European Court of Human Rights judgment calling for the release of Kavala. The Turkish Constitutional court, which rules on the legality of charges, such as those against Selahattin Demirtas, said they would postpone judgment until the new indictment was released, and the court has yet to set a date for the new consideration. Further, on October 14, another Istanbul court ruled, upon the appeals of Kavala’s lawyers, that the clause of the new indictment calling for him to be remanded in prison was illegal. However, he remains detained on the charges of espionage, which his legal team is appealing.

Following the July 2016 coup attempt and the imposition of a state of emergency by the current government, freedom of expression has come under severe pressure in Turkey. According to PEN America’s inaugural Freedom to Write Index, Turkey ranked third worldwide, with 30 writers and intellectuals detained or imprisoned during 2019. PEN America has campaigned on behalf of a number of writers incarcerated or otherwise facing restrictions on their freedom of expression or movement, including the Altan brothers, Ahmet Sik, and Zehra Doğan.

Kavala is best known for his work in creating Anadolu Kültür, a non-for-profit center bringing together individuals from the art world, business, and civil society to develop mutual understanding and overcome regional prejudices. In addition, he was an instrumental force in establishing İletişim Publishing, which strives to foster within its catalogue a number of young Turkish authors.