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Turkish court rules Kavala to stay in jail, frees another defendant in Gezi Park riots trial

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The Istanbul 30th Heavy Penal Court on Tuesday ruled for the continuation of arrest of Osman Kavala, a businessman linked to the 2013 Gezi Park riots as well as the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), but ordered the release of Yiğit Aksakoğlu, another suspect in the case.

The two and 14 other defendants are on trial for financing and inciting the 2013 Gezi Park riots in Istanbul. Defendants, including six fugitives, face life imprisonment and lesser prison terms for attempting to overthrow the government.

According to the court’s interlocutory ruling, Aksakoğlu will be released on probation and be banned from traveling internationally. Kavala, who has been in jail since 2017, will continue to remain in pre-trial detention.

The court also ruled for the continuation of warrants against Can Dündar, Pınar Öğün, Gökçe Yılmaz, Handan Meltem Arıkan, Hanzade Hikmet Germiyanoğlu and Mehmet Ali Alabora.

However, it rejected the rogatory request of İnanç Ekmekçi, who is currently in Germany, and said her defense will be taken in the next hearing in the event that she is present at court.

The next hearing is due on July 18.

Kavala and Aksakoğlu, who is linked to Kavala’s Anadolu Kültür foundation, were the only jailed defendants in the case.

In his opening statements, Kavala denied the charges against him and claimed that the allegations he faced had no factual basis.

Kavala is often branded the “Turkish Soros” for his links to the controversial Hungarian-American tycoon George Soros. He is known for his close ties to the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a party linked to the PKK terrorist group. Earlier, Soros’s Open Society Foundation said it had become a target of the investigation and would cease operations in Turkey.

Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Istanbul in June 2013 in what began as a peaceful protest against a plan to build a replica of an Ottoman barracks on Gezi Park in the city center. Following a harsh response by the police, which is now blamed on the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), the protests turned into nationwide demonstrations and riots against the government of then-Prime Minister Erdoğan. Portrayed as Arab Spring-style riots in the Western media, protesters garnered support even among moderate critics of the government despite their violence. The fate of Gezi Park, where officials had plans to rebuild an Ottoman-era building that were thwarted when red tape caused delays in redevelopment plans, are still in limbo. However, for rioters, the protests were a show of force for terrorist groups.

At least 10 protesters and one police officer died during clashes or events related to the protests, while thousands of others were injured.