Members of Turkish and international human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, pose for the media following a joint press conference to condemn attacks on civil society groups in Turkey, in Istanbul, Feb 27, 2019. (LEFTERIS PITARAKIS / AP)
ISTANBUL — A trial in Turkey against 16 people accused of terror charges and organizing anti-government protests in 2013 began Monday with rights groups calling the allegations baseless.
Human Rights Watch called the charges "bogus," saying the indictment does not explain how the defendants allegedly planned an uprising or conspired
The 657-page indictment claims the defendants "attempted to overthrow the government," which carries a life sentence, through organizing and financing an "uprising." The trial is taking place in a prison complex on Istanbul's outskirts.
The protests began in 2013 to protect Gezi Park in central Istanbul from development but quickly transformed into wider anti-government demonstrations across Turkey. Police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse mostly peaceful protesters, leading to widespread criticism of how Turkish authorities handled the protests.
Among the 16 are prominent civil society figure and philanthropist Osman Kavala, who has been in pre-trial detention for 20 months, and Yigit Aksakoglu, who works for an early childhood education foundation, who has been detained for eight months.
Starting his testimony, Kavala said there was no evidence against him to substantiate the charges that he planned an uprising. He told the court his activities in civil society have been transparent.
"I'm no different than the hundreds of thousands of people who conducted peaceful activities during the Gezi events and I request my release and acquittal," he said.
Kavala's arrest in November 2017 was internationally condemned. The European Union questioned whether the Turkish judiciary adhered to international standards after the indictment was announced in February. Among the 746 complainants on the indictment is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The indictment cites hundreds of intercepted telephone conversations from the defendants as well as their travels abroad and social media posts. The defendants are also accused of numerous other charges, including damaging property and damaging places of worship and cemeteries.
Human Rights Watch called the charges "bogus," saying the indictment does not explain how the defendants allegedly planned an uprising or conspired. The group said the aim of the trial was to "silence and punish the defendants for their legitimate and entirely peaceful civic activities and work."
Since a failed coup in 2016, the Turkish government has cracked down on the network of a US-based cleric accused of masterminding the attempted overthrow, but others, including opposition politicians, journalists and activists have also been arrested.
Previous trials on the Gezi protests resulted in the acquittal of defendants on the basis of freedom of assembly.
Six of the defendants, including journalist Can Dundar and actor Memet Ali Alabora, are abroad.
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