Turkish Court Defies Europe, Leaves Philanthropist Behind Bars
An Istanbul court has defied the European Court of Human Rights, ruling in favor of the continued detention of prominent philanthropist Osman Kavala. In December, the European Court demanded the immediate release of Kavala, who is on trial for sedition.Kavala and 15 other civil society activists are accused of supporting anti-government protests in 2013 against then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is now president. The protest action came to be known as the Gezi movement, named after an Istanbul park where the unrest started. Prosecutors are calling for life imprisonment without parole.The ECHR condemned the case, calling for an end to Kavala’s more than two years in prison and describing it as “arbitrary” and “politically motivated.”The Istanbul court ruled Tuesday the ECHR decision was provisional because Ankara was appealing the verdict and that Kavala should remain in jail.”The court’s decision is flawed because the European Court ruling was clear in its call for Kavala’s immediate release,” said Emma Sinclair Webb, Turkey researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch.”We saw multiple signs of how unfair this trial is,” said Webb, speaking after attending Tuesday’s court hearing. “The lawyers for Kavala raised many objections to the way witness evidence is used in this case. The court turns a deaf ear to all objections. It’s a shocking indication that once again, Turkey’s judiciary seems to be under heavy pressure of the executive.”Tuesday’s court hearing was marred by chaos, with Kavala’s lawyers challenging the judge’s decision to hear some witnesses without their presence, prompting the lawyers to walk out of the room. Ankara strongly rejects the ECHR verdict, maintaining that the judiciary is independent. But observers note the case has strong political undertones. Three months ahead of Kavala’s prosecution, Erdogan accused him of “financing terrorists” and that Kavala was a representative for “that famous Jew [George Soros,] who tries to divide and tear up nations.” Erdogan did not elaborate on the comments about George Soros, who is an international philanthropist.Erdogan’s allegations against Kavala resemble the prosecution case against the jailed activist.Kavala is a pivotal figure in Turkey, using his wealth to help develop the country’s fledgling civil society after a 1980 military coup.
“Osman Kavala is very prominent within the civil society in this country,” said Sinan Gokcen, Turkey representative of Swedish-based Civil Rights Defenders. “He is not a man of antagonism; he is a man of preaching dialogue, a man of building bridges.”FILE – Lawyers for jailed philanthropist Osman Kavala hold a press conference in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 31, 2018.Gokcen works to support Turkish human rights defenders and says Kavala’s prosecution has far-reaching repercussions for civic society.”It means that they [the Turkish government] can detain any member of civil society in Turkey regardless of what this person is defending or advocating and can keep this person as long as they want despite any legal mechanism. We feel unprotected. In a way, we feel powerless to end such a situation. We feel powerless and intimidated,” added Gokcen.Turkey is in the grip of a legal crackdown following a 2016 failed coup blamed by the president on dissident military elements with links to Turkish-Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. Gulen lives in self-imposed exile in the United States and is a staunch opponent of Erdogan.Hundreds of journalists, human rights defenders and members of the wider Turkish civic society have been prosecuted and jailed. The government says it is defending democracy, but critics argue the crackdown is more about silencing critics.Human Rights Watch Monday called on the United Nations to review Turkey’s “human rights crisis and the dramatic erosion of its rule of law framework.” On Tuesday, Turkey faced its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.Ankara claims it remains committed to human rights and cites its plans to introduce a package of legal reforms. But critics cite the ongoing prosecutions as evidence of the government’s real intentions.”The huge number of journalists, politicians, and perceived government critics in prison and on trial flies in the face of the Turkish government’s public statements about the state of human rights in the country,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.With the U.N. having few tools to sanction Turkey, the European Union is seen as offering the best hope by human rights advocates of applying pressure on Ankara.Turkey’s EU membership bid is already frozen, in part due to human rights concerns. But Ankara is seeking to extend a customs union, along with visa-free travel for its citizens with the EU. “It’s time all European countries should be speaking out very loud and clear on cases like this [Kavala],” said Sinclair-Webb.But even high-profile cases like Kavala’s have seen Brussels offer only muted criticism of Ankara. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Istanbul Friday for talks with Erdogan saw little criticism of Turkey’s human rights record. Instead, discussions focused on Ankara’s recent deployment of soldiers to Libya and the upholding of an EU-Turkish agreement controlling migrants entering Europe.”There are many issues to talk about with Turkey,” said Sinclair Webb. “Syria, Libya, Turkey, hosting so many refugees from Syria, and this often takes priority over Turkey’s domestic human rights crisis. This means there isn’t sufficient clarity on cases like this. What we are seeing is Turkey defying Europe’s human rights court.”
Some analysts suggest Brussels could yet be lobbying behind the scenes for Kavala’s release, tying Ankara’s calls for extra financial assistance for refugees to gestures on human rights.
your ad here
Energy Giant Total Taken to French Court for Climate Inaction
In a groundbreaking case in France, energy giant Total is being sued for allegedly failing to adequately fight climate change.The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday by environmental groups and local authorities who feel it has potential global implications.The legal action against Total will be the first use of a 2017 French law to sue for climate inaction. The legislation requires major French companies to draft so-called “vigilance plans” to prevent environmental damage, among other areas. The plaintiffs said Total has not done so when it comes to climate change. “We’re filing a lawsuit against them because they’re still not making the energy transition necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees,” said Paul Mougeolle, who represents Notre Affaire a Tous, an environmental NGO that has filed a separate climate action case against the French government. “Total has 1% of greenhouse gases worldwide — more than the carbon footprint of France,” Mougeolle said. “So, we think Total has a special responsibility towards this energy transition.”Fourteen local authorities and five civil society groups have joined the Total lawsuit, which reflects a broader grass-roots uprising on climate in Europe and elsewhere. This alliance said companies that contribute to climate change should help pay the price for mitigating it and dealing with the consequences.France’s central Val de Loire region is part of the lawsuit.Regional councilor Benoit Faucheaux describes last summer’s devastating drought, which dried up rivers in his region of central France. Experts said climate change will make such droughts longer, more frequent and more devastating. “We hope Total will change its business model, that it will shift from that situation where it produces energy and fossil energies (to) another model where they are involved in energy transition,” Faucheaux said.Sebastien Mabile of Seattle Advocates law group, which has taken on the case, is uncertain about its chances — because it’s a legal first. But if it succeeds, he said, its impact could be big. “Because Total … operates in 130 countries,” Mabile said. “So, this case can have implications all over the world, such as the U.S., Africa, in all of the oil and gas basins.”Total faces a separate but somewhat similar lawsuit for allegedly failing to plan for potential human and environmental impacts of an Ugandan oil project. The company did not respond VOA’s requests for comment.
your ad here
New Pressure on Prince Andrew to Help Epstein Investigation
The pressure on Britain’s disgraced Prince Andrew increased Tuesday after the revelation by U.S. authorities that he has failed to cooperate with the FBI’s investigation into his ties with the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Lawyer Lisa Bloom, who represents five of Epstein’s alleged sexual trafficking victims, said Tuesday that it’s time for Andrew “to stop playing games and to come forward to do the right thing and answer questions.”
Bloom said her clients were “outraged and disappointed at Prince Andrew’s behavior.”
Andrew remained out of the public eye Tuesday. Buckingham Palace and his legal team maintained a “no comment” policy one day after U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said Andrew has provided “zero cooperation” to the FBI and the U.S. prosecutors seeking to speak with him about Epstein.
The statement Monday by Berman, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, was the first official confirmation that the leading U.S. law enforcement agency had sought — and failed — to obtain evidence from Andrew, third child of Queen Elizabeth II, despite his pledge in November that he would cooperate with legitimate law enforcement agencies.
The U.S. decision to make the 59-year-old prince’s silence public may be part of a strategy to increase public calls for him to cooperate.FILE – Financier Jeffrey Epstein looks on during a bail hearing in his sex trafficking case, in this court sketch in New York, July 15, 2019.Andrew is being sought for questioning as a witness who may be able to shed light on the illegal activities of Epstein, who died in a New York prison in August while awaiting trial on sexually abusing teenage girls. There’s no indication that U.S. officials are pursuing criminal charges against the prince.
The FBI only has limited ways to try to convince Andrew to give evidence.
U.S. officials have not provided details, so it’s not clear if the FBI made an informal request through Andrew’s lawyers or went through formal police channels, which if successful would have led to an interview conducted by U.K. police, possibly with an FBI agent present.
“They can’t compel him to do any of those things,” said British lawyer Ben Keith, a specialist in extradition and law enforcement. “The next stage after that is to issue a formal Mutual Legal Assistance Request, which would go through the Foreign Office and be dealt with in the court system.”
That could lead, Keith said, to the prince giving evidence via video link to U.S. investigators.
Andrew has been accused by a woman who says that she had several sexual encounters with the prince at Epstein’s behest, starting when she was 17.
Virginia Roberts Giuffre says after meeting Epstein as a teenager in Florida in 2000, he flew her around the world and pressured her into having sex with numerous older men, including Andrew, two senior U.S. politicians, a noted academic, and the attorney Alan Dershowitz, who is now part of President Donald Trump’s impeachment defense team.
Giuffre has said she had sex with Andrew three times, including once in London in 2001 at the home of Epstein’s girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell. Giuffre claims that she was paid by Epstein for her sexual encounters.
Andrew and Dershowitz have denied any wrongdoing. But the royal family forced Andrew to step down from his royal duties and charity patronages in November after giving a disastrous television interview in which he defended his friendship with Epstein and failed to express sympathy for the girls and women who Epstein abused.
Andrew is also being pursued by several lawyers representing Epstein victims who are pushing civil suits against Epstein’s estate.
Those lawyers could choose to bring their request to a British high court, seeking to have an examiner take a statement from Andrew or pursue other ways to obtain his evidence. So far they are only making public calls for him to make himself available and threatening to subpoena Andrew if he travels to the U.S.
The complex legal situation may make Andrew reluctant to visit the U.S., where his evidence is sought on both criminal and civil cases, but lawyers say it’s unlikely to restrict his travel to other countries.
New York criminal defense lawyer Ron Kuby says it’s unlikely the prince will ever voluntarily agree to an interview and said the FBI doesn’t have the means to force him to.
“The likelihood of him participating is very, very small,” Kuby said. “Why would he? The last time Prince Andrew spoke on the relevant topic he was yanked from public life and universally ridiculed.”
Andrew, eighth in line to the throne, has been seen at occasional royal family events since November but has not commented on Epstein since his TV interview backfired.
your ad here
Turkey Journalists Protest Press Pass Cancellations
Members of Turkey’s largest journalism trade union rallied outside Ankara’s Communications Directorate on Monday to protest the government’s mass cancellation of state-issued press credentials.According to the Journalist’s Union of Turkey, known by its Turkish acronym TGS, and international press advocacy groups, such as the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), up to 1,400 press cards have been canceled in recent months.Most of the journalists targeted for cancellation, observers say, report for independent news outlets or publications critical of the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.Although journalists are permitted to work without press cards, the passes are the only documents that allow reporters to access Parliament and other government buildings.”As journalists, we don’t need permission from anyone,” Esra Koçak, Ankara-branch chairman of TGS, told independent Turkish news agency Bianet. “We want to protect people’s right to receive information, which is our only motto.”Indefinite reviewIn 2019, Turkish communications officials announced plans to change the traditionally yellow press card to turquoise and require all reporters to submit applications for the new cards no later than Jan. 26, 2020.FILE – Journalists are seen during a stake-out in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 31, 2018.Since that announcement was made, hundreds of applications for renewal have remained under indefinite review without explanation, and journalists left in bureaucratic limbo have been instructed to await a ruling on the status of their individual applications.Although some reporters were told they could continue using their old yellow cards in the meantime, Ankara officials invalidated all yellow cards on the Jan. 26 deadline.Officials with Turkey’s Communications Directorate did not respond to requests for comment, but the agency’s director, Fahrettin Altun, took to Twitter Monday to deny allegations of mass decredentialing.”Reports regarding the cancellation of press passes is not accurate,” he wrote, appending a diagram showing several phases of the press card application process.Turkish communications officials, he wrote in further posts, must first determine whether applicants are “professionally engaged in journalistic activity, whether he/she is affiliated with a terrorist organization and whether he/she has been engaged in any action or conduct that tarnishes the integrity of the profession.”Altun put the number of the unconcluded applications at 894.Some cards reactivatedAfter several hours of protests on Monday, some journalists found that their cards were at least partially reactivated, suddenly indicating a “still in use” status on government web portals, leading some to questions whether the government had begun walking back the restrictions.”It appears that the Directorate decided to correct the mistake,” said a TGS spokesperson. “We call on the officials to issue the new press passes that have been put on hold for the past year with no reason provided.”Ankara’s Communications Directorate has reported to President Erdogan’s office since June 2018, when Turkey scrapped its parliamentary system for an executive presidential system of governance.FILE – Journalists work on a hilltop in Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, covering Ankara’s incursion into Syria, Oct. 20, 2019.According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, 15 reporters and the top editor of Istanbul-based Evrensel have been denied reporting credentials, as have journalists working for other left-leaning dailies such as BirGün and Cumhuriyet.”Turkey’s decision to cancel the press cards for hundreds of journalists is yet another attack on independent reporting and is absolutely unacceptable,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities should immediately restore the journalists’ press credentials, and should ensure that passes are granted in an impartial process.”Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, known by its French acronym RSF, ranked Turkey 157 out of 180 countries in its 2019 annual World Press Freedom Index.”After the elimination of dozens of media outlets and the acquisition of Turkey’s biggest media group by a pro-government conglomerate, the authorities are tightening the vice on what little is left of pluralism – a handful of media outlets that are being harassed and marginalized,” said the RSF report, which identifies Ankara as the world’s second largest jailer of journalists.The 2019 RSF index ranked the United States 48 out of 180, a three-slot drop from 45th place in 2018, as “rhetorical attacks from the government and private individuals alike grew increasingly hostile.”CPJ reported that Turkey revoked press credentials of some 900 journalists after the attempted coup in 2016.
your ad here
US State Department Bars NPR Reporter from Pompeo Trip After Testy Interview
The U.S. State Department removed a National Public Radio reporter from the press pool for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s upcoming foreign trip, a press association and NPR said on Monday, days after Pompeo angrily responded to another NPR journalist’s interview with him.
The removal of NPR reporter Michele Kelemen, who was part of the traveling pool of correspondents with Pompeo on his planned trip to the UK, Ukraine, Belarus and Central Asia, can be seen only as retaliation for her colleague’s interview, the State Department Correspondents’ Association (SDCA) said.
“The State Department press corps has a long tradition of accompanying secretaries of state on their travels and we find
it unacceptable to punish an individual member of our association,” Shaun Tandon, the head of the association, said in
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Pompeo was interviewed on Friday by NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly, and was asked repeatedly about Ukraine and ousted U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch during a testy nine-minute exchange.
Yovanovitch’s removal was a key event in the actions that prompted the impeachment of President Donald Trump by the
Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives last month. Following the interview, Kelly said Pompeo cursed at her and
repeatedly “used the F-word” and asked her: “Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?”
In a statement on Saturday, Pompeo said the reporter had lied in setting up the interview and in agreeing to conduct the
post-interview conversation off the record. His statement did not dispute what she said about the content of the
NPR stood by its account of the meeting. On Monday, NPR confirmed the removal of Kelemen, who has covered the State Department for two decades, and said she was informed that she would not be traveling but she was not given a
“We respectfully ask the State Department to reconsider and allow Michele to travel on the plane for this trip,” Tandon of
FILE – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks towards reporters to speak aboard his plane en route to Thailand, before taking off from Andrews Air Force Base, Md.Ukraine Trip
Pompeo, who is due to make an official visit to Ukraine starting on Thursday, will be the most senior U.S. official to
travel to that country since the impeachment process began.
His relationship with the press has been tense since his first months in the job, but it has deteriorated since the
impeachment inquiry as Pompeo, a former U.S. congressman, expressed dismay over reporters’ insistence to ask about
The House impeached Trump on charges of abuse of power in his dealings with Ukraine and obstruction of Congress, setting up the trial in the Republican-led Senate. Trump, who denies wrongdoing and has condemned the impeachment process, is unlikely to be convicted.
At the heart of the impeachment lies $391 million in aid to Ukraine, which Trump is accused of freezing until Kiev helped
with investigations into Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
Congress had approved the funds to help Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists. The money was ultimately provided in September after the controversy spilled into public view.
Pompeo has occasionally snapped back at reporters for asking impeachment-related questions, describing the media’s persistent interest in the issue as “silliness” and “noise.” He has said he supports all State Department employees, but has declined, to date, to publicly offer words of support for Yovanovitch specifically.
your ad here
US Noncommittal on Keeping Troops in Africa
The United States is refusing to rule out shrinking the size of its military presence in Africa despite warnings that without Washington’s help, critical counterterror efforts could fall apart.French Defense Minister Florence Parly delivered the latest plea for continued U.S. involvement in the counterterror fight Monday during talks with top U.S. military officials at the Pentagon.But following the meeting, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Washington had to take into account other urgent priorities.”We are focused on great power competition, first with China, then Russia,” Esper told reporters. “My aim is to adjust our [military] footprint in many places. No decisions have been made.”French Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speak during a news conference at the Pentagon in Washington, Jan. 27, 2020.France currently has about 4,500 troops in Africa, taking a lead role in countering terror groups linked to Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaida across the Sahel region.Earlier this month, in response to the death of 13 French soldiers during a combat mission in Mali late last year, France said it would send another 220 troops to the region.And France is not alone in sounding the alarm about the growth of terror groups on the Sahel.A increasing number of Western diplomats have warned that IS, in particular, is using the region to regroup following the loss of its self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq.The concern has run so deep, that during an anti-IS coalition meeting hosted this past November in Washington, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that partner nations were already looking to West Africa and the Sahel as “a preferred, initial area of focus” outside of Syria and Iraq.“We agreed at the working level that West FILE – French President Emmanuel Macron visits French troops in Africa’s Sahel region in Gao, northern Mali, May 19, 2017.”There is a lot of collaboration in terms of logistics but also in terms of intelligence,” Niagale Bagayoko, a lead researcher and chair of the African Security Sector Network, told VOA. “That is one of the reasons why the French are presently eager to see the Americans to stay involved in the continent, in particular.”French officials have also emphasized that while they understand Washington’s desire to rebalance its forces across the world to better confront adversaries like China and Russia, they are not asking for a lot.”It’s a classic case of burden sharing where a limited U.S. support leverages an immesnse effort carried out by France and Europe,” Parly said Monday.Yet despite French officials expressing hope that “good sense” would prevail and that Washington would maintain its support for the French-led counterterror operations, U.S. defense officials have increasingly signaled such help may not be forthcoming.”France has reached out to other European allies. I think it’s time for other European allies to assist, as well, in the region,” Esper told reporters Monday. “That could offset whatever changes we make as we consider next steps in Africa.”VOA’s Salem Solomon contributed to this report.
your ad here
EU Tells UK It Will ‘Never, Never, Never’ Compromise on Single Market
The European Union will “never, never, never” compromise on the integrity of its single market, its chief Brexit negotiator warned Britain on Monday, saying London must now face reality after underestimating the costs of leaving.Some British politicians have suggested Brussels might be flexible on its rules in order to protect trade flows in talks due to begin in the coming weeks after Britain’s formal exit from the bloc on Friday.But Michel Barnier, speaking in the British region of Northern Ireland widely seen as most at risk from Brexit, warned negative consequences were unavoidable.”There will be no compromise on the single market. Never, never, never,” Barnier told an audience at Queen’s University Belfast, describing the single market as the foundation of EU’s international influence.Michel Barnier, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, speaks to the media at Government Buildings in Dublin, Ireland, Jan. 27, 2020.”Leaving the single market, leaving the customs union will have consequences. And what I saw … in the last year, is that many of these consequences have been underestimated in the UK,” he said. “Now we have to face the reality.”Hard choicesBarnier said that while Brussels was willing to be flexible and pragmatic in trade talks, Britain’s choices have made frictionless trade with the EU impossible.If no trade agreement is reached, Britain still faces the risk of a cliff-edge Brexit in 2021 when an 11-month status quote transition ends, he added.”If we have no agreement, it will not be business as usual and the status quo, we have to face the risk of a cliff edge, in particular for trade,” Barnier said.The EU has repeatedly said the level of access UK products can continue to enjoy will be proportionate to the commitments London makes on EU rules, particularly in relation to state aid.”It is not clear to me whether, when the UK leaves the EU and the Single Market, it will also choose to leave Europe’s societal and regulatory model. That is the key question, and we are waiting for an answer,” Barnier said.Northern IrelandIrish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar earlier Tuesday said there would have to be some checks on goods going from Britain into Northern Ireland, despite British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s repeated insistence that these will not be needed.Johnson’s willingness to allow some EU regulations to apply in Northern Ireland to prevent the need for a border on the island was the crucial concession he offered last year to obtain a withdrawal deal with the bloc.Barnier was asked repeatedly by journalists in Belfast whether trade talks could avoid the need to have checks, but he would only say the text of the withdrawal agreement that governs it was binding and could not be revisited.”The Withdrawal Agreement must be applied with rigor and discipline by all sides. It cannot be re-opened under the guise of implementation,” Barnier said. Implementation will be crucial in building trust for the trade talks, he added.Varadkar earlier on Monday told Britain’s BBC that the European Union would have the upper hand in trade talks, having the “stronger team” due to its larger population and market. Johnson’s aim of getting a deal by the end of 2020 “will be difficult,” Varadkar added.
your ad here
Britain’s Decision on Huawei Tests Special Relationship with US
This week Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heads to London as British officials weigh whether or not to allow Chinese telecom giant Huawei to take part in the country’s buildout of its 5G network.The British government is expected to make the decision Tuesday. FILE – Signage is seen at the Huawei offices in Reading, Britain, May 2, 2019.A senior U.S. official said the two nations are having “very close” and “very vigorous conversations.” Another official said Britain has not told the U.S. about the final decision. The U.S. says Huawei could provide China a “back door” for spying, a claim that Huawei rejects. In a Friday phone call with Johnson, U.S. President Donald Trump told the British Prime Minister that giving Huawei the go-ahead would cause a major rift in transatlantic relations and jeopardize intelligence-sharing between Washington and London.U.S. officials have also voiced frustration with decisions by some European nations to grant Huawei some access in the roll-out of their 5G network.“They announced a toolkit that many of us consider to be inadequate,” a senior U.S. official said, referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “no-spy” pact from Huawei as she decided to allow the Chinese telecom company to take part in Germany’s 5G roll-out.Under the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, the U.S. Defense Secretary should brief Congressional defense committees by March 15 on the implementation of a plan for fifth generation information and communications technologies, including steps to work with U.S. allies and partners to protect critical networks and supply chains.
your ad here