Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has found a face-saving formula that has allowed him sensibly to pull back from weekend threats to expel 10 ambassadors who had called on Turkey to release a jailed prominent human rights activist. The four-year pretrial detention of Osman Kavala, a 65-year-old businessman and philanthropist, had been ruled a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in December 2020. Not for the first time, Turkey ignored the ruling of the ECHR and the country is due to face infringement action next month if it continues to fail to comply.
Kavala's trial resumes in December on charges of financing nationwide Gezi Park protests in 2013 and alleged involvement in an attempted coup in 2016. The ECHR concluded that his arrest was based on political motives, without any reasonable evidence backing the accusations.
Thousands have been arrested over the Gezi Park protests, sparked by plans to redevelop the green space in Istanbul into a shopping mall, and for supposed involvement the 2016 coup attempt.
Erdogan moved against the ambassadors from Germany, France, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, seven of them Turkey's fellow Nato members. But he retreated on Monday after international uproar and a joint letter from the ambassadorial group reaffirming that they remain committed, under the terms of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, not to interfere in a host country's internal affairs .
The US state department made clear, however, that the statement was meant to underscore that the US envoy’s actions were in keeping with the convention’s terms. The demand for Kavala’s release remains. Erdogan chose to see the letter as a repudiation of their previous demand and that “they will be more careful now”. Turkey’s repeated failure to adhere to the rulings of the ECHR, the court attached to the Council of Europe which Turkey joined in 1950, is jeopardising its membership and its relations with democratic allies.