Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called a businessman sentence to life in prison for organizing the 2013 anti-government Gezi Park protests the "George Soros" of Turkey.
"This man was Turkey’s Soros, and this man was the behind-the-scenes coordinator of the Gezi events, and our judiciary made its final decision on him," Erdogan said of Osman Kavala, who was sentenced to life in prison earlier this week.
Kavala sat on the board of the Turkish chapter of Soros's Open Society Foundation until the Turkish government shuttered it in 2018.
A criminal court in Istanbul convicted Kavala this week of conspiring to overthrow Erdogan in a failed 2016 coup, and allegedly financing and organizing the Gezi Park protests.
Monday’s verdict was criticized by rights groups and Turkey’s western allies as an attempt to silence opponents under Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule. The U.S. said it was “deeply troubled and disappointed” by the court’s decision and reiterated calls for Kavala’s release in line with European Court of Human Rights rulings. -Bloomberg
"There is law in this country, there is a judiciary in this country, and this judiciary has made its decision," Erdogan told representatives of several NGOs during a fast-breaking dinner in Istanbul.
In addition to Kavala, seven other activists were sentenced to as long as 18 years in prison for their role in conspiring to over throw the government - charges they all deny.
The sentences drew protests in Istanbul earlier this week, with hundreds coming out to protest Kavala and the others' sentences.
The US State Department has defended the guilty parties - saying in a statement: "The people of Turkey deserve to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms without fear of retribution," adding "We urge the government to cease politically motivated prosecutions and to respect the rights and freedoms of all Turkish citizens."