A Turkish court on Monday sentenced leading intellectual and rights campaigner Osman Kavala to life in jail on highly controversial coup plot charges that had already seen him locked up without a conviction for more than four years.
The panel of three judges also sentenced seven other defendants to 18 years in jail each on charges of aiding the attempt to topple the government.
The judgement is almost certain to attract a chorus of condemnation from Turkey’s main allies in the NATO defence alliance.
The court’s ruling drew boos from a packed audience that included Western diplomats who have been trying to stress the importance of rights issues and judicial independence in their relations with Ankara. Emma Sinclair-Webb of Human Rights Watch called it “the worst possible outcome to this show trial”.
The verdict, which is likely to harm Turkey’s ties with Western nations, comes as Europe’s top human rights body, the Council of Europe, launched infringement procedures against Turkey for refusing to abide by a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, which in 2019 called for Kavala’s release on grounds that his rights had been violated.
The United States said it was "deeply troubled and disappointed" by the conviction of Kavala, who was jailed for life without parole on Monday.
"His unjust conviction is inconsistent with respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law. We again call on Turkey to release Osman Kavala," the U.S. State Department said in a statement on Monday.
"We remain gravely concerned by the continued judicial harassment of civil society, media, political and business leaders in Turkey," the State Department added.
Seven other defendants were also sentenced to 18 years in prison on Monday amid boos in the courtroom.
The verdict comes as Europe’s top human rights body, the Council of Europe, launched infringement procedures against Turkey over the case.
Ankara has failed to abide by a European Court of Human Rights ruling in 2019 which has called for Kavala’s immediate release.
"Today, we have witnessed a travesty of justice of spectacular proportions," said Nils Muiznieks, Amnesty International's Director for Europe.
"This verdict deals a devastating blow not only to Osman Kavala, his co-defendants and their families but to everyone who believes in justice and human rights activism in Turkey and beyond."
Kavala was initially acquitted in February 2020 of charges that connected him with the 2013 Gezi Park protests.
But, as supporters awaited his release, Kavala was rearrested on new charges linking him to a 2016 coup attempt, which the Turkish government has blamed on a network of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.
This acquittal was later overturned and the cases were merged.