A trial in Turkey for 16 people accused of “terrorism” charges and organising anti-government protests in 2013 has begun with rights groups calling the allegations baseless.
The 657-page indictment claims the defendants “attempted to overthrow the government” – which carries a life sentence without parole – through organising and financing an “uprising”. The trial began on Monday in a prison complex on Istanbul’s outskirts.
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 imprisoned for eight months.
The protests began in 2013 to protect Gezi Park in central Istanbul from development but quickly transformed into wider anti-government demonstrations across Turkey.
Outside the court, hundreds of supporters of the defendants gathered with riot police watching nearby.
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 from the hundreds of thousands of people who conducted peaceful activities during the Gezi events and I request my release and acquittal,” he said.
“The accusation for which I have been imprisoned for the past 20 months is based on a series of claims that have no factual basis and defy logic,” Kavala told the court.
The indictment names 746 people as injured parties in the nationwide protests, holding the defendants responsible for all injuries and damage to property.
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, 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”.
Previous trials on the Gezi protests resulted in the acquittal of defendants on the basis of freedom of assembly.