Turkish businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala was re-arrested on Tuesday, just hours after a court acquitted him and eight other defendants over the 2013 protests in Istanbul’s Gezi Park.
The high-profile trial was closely watched by rights groups, who had accused the Turkish government of using the judicial system to crack down on dissenting voices. Kavala’s re-arrest was criticized by activists.
Kavala had spent more than two years in pre-trial detention over the Gezi Park protests, which began over a plan to turn a small park in central Istanbul into a shopping mall. The demonstrations quickly morphed into larger anti-government rallies across Turkey.
The new order issued by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office seeks to keep Kavala in detention over the failed military coup in 2016. He was re-arrested and taken to police headquarters in Istanbul, state media reported Wednesday.
Kavala’s acquittal Tuesday had initially been welcomed by rights groups. Following Tuesday’s verdict, Milena Buyum, Amnesty International campaigner for Turkey, expressed her “huge relief” on Twitter.
In a statement, the organization said the “judgement was a touchstone for Turkish justice.”
Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu wrote on Twitter that the “acquittal of all the defendants in the Gezi Park trial is a true source of joy, and restores trust in the Turkish judicial system.”
But news of his re-arrest prompted outrage. Emma Sinclair-Webb, the Turkey director of Human Rights Watch, said the new order was “lawless and vindictive,” according to Reuters.
Kavala, along with two other defendants, had faced life sentences for allegedly attempting to overthrow the government.
Seven of the 16 defendants in the case are living abroad and were being tried in absentia. Arrest warrants for those seven have been lifted, and they are expected to be officially acquitted if they return to Turkey.
Kavala has always maintained he took part in a peaceful demonstration to save the green space in central Istanbul from developers.
In December last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Kavala had been arbitrarily detained.
What were the 2013 protests about?
The Gezi Park protests almost seven years ago involved sit-ins by conservationists and campaigners in and around the park.
Scenes of riot police brandishing tear gas and water cannons at young protesters were broadcast on televisions around the world. The protests soon became about a broader discontent with Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian government.
The confrontation came at a delicate time in then-Prime Minister and now-President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s leadership. Erdogan, who was serving his third term in office, had been criticized — even by his allies — for trying to impose changes without first seeking public input.
The Gezi Park plan represented the final straw for many Turks, who accused the government of trying to impose its will whenever and wherever it wanted.