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Turkey probes judges over 2013 protest trial acquittals

Turkey began investigating the judges who acquitted defendants in the 2013 Gezi protests trial, hours after the president called supporters of the environmental movement enemies of the state.

State news agency Anadolu reported on Wednesday that the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) launched the probe over the acquittal on Tuesday of nine defendants to check if the decision was flawed.

Earlier, President Recep Erdogan told a ruling party meeting in parliament: “Whoever describes the Gezi events as an innocent environmental movement is either witless or is a (deliberate) enemy of this country and its people.”

He also described the Istanbul protests as “a cowardly attack targeting the state and the people, just like military coups … just like attacks by terrorist groups.”

The protests were against the government’s plans to redevelop an area in central Istanbul around Taksim Square – including destroying one of the city’s last green spaces in Gezi Park.

Seven years back, police violently dispersed a peaceful sit–in to save Gezi Park, where the government wanted to build a replica of an Ottoman-era barracks.

Prominent philanthropist Osman Kavala was among nine of the 16 defendants acquitted.

While Erdogan said he respected the court’s decision, he added that “the verdict of those who led Gezi for us and our people will never change.”

Erdogan’s sweeping powers since becoming Turkey’s first executive president in 2018 include choosing some members of the HSK, which is responsible for judicial appointments.

He said there were billions of dollars in damage from Gezi “vandalism” and “plundering” of public and private assets.

He added that “we will pursue this issue until the very end … to ensure an outcome in the interest of justice.”

Erdogan said that the Turkey arm of U.S.-Hungarian investor and philanthropist George Soros, who was stirring up protests in some countries, was in jail, without referring to Kavala by name.

“And with a manoeuvre they tried to get him acquitted yesterday,” Erdogan said.

The police crackdown in 2013 triggered nationwide anti-government protests, representing the largest such mobilisation against then-prime minister Erdogan.

The court on Tuesday also ordered the release of Kavala, the only defendant in prison.

But he was rearrested hours later after a prosecutor issued a new warrant related to a coup attempt in 2016, Anadolu reported.

Kavala – who spent almost two and a half years behind bars in the Gezi trial – is now accused of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.

The prosecutor said he would appeal against the decision to acquit all nine defendants.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Kavala’s rearrest was “incomprehensible from every point of view” and called for any fresh allegations to be cleared up quickly.

During his speech, Erdogan also showed a video of the Gezi protests with commentary calling it part of an international plot to overthrow his government.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which in December told Turkey to free Kavala immediately, noted that the Gezi indictment came after two speeches in which Erdogan denounced Kavala by name.

In 2018, Erdogan publicly accused Kavala of financing the protests with backing from Soros.

The 657-page indictment lists Erdogan, among others, as an injured party. (dpa/NAN)

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