ISTANBUL — The wife of a jailed philanthropist at the center of a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and 10 Western nations described her husband’s imprisonment as inexplicable Monday.
“There’s no way this situation can be explained either logically or legally,” Ayse Bugra said in comments published on Halk TV’s website. Her husband, Osman Kavala, has been in a Turkish prison for four years awaiting trial on charges many view as unfounded.
Last week, the ambassadors of 10 countries, including the U.S., Germany and France, called for Kavala’s release and the swift resolution of his case.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned their joint statement and announced on Saturday that he had ordered the envoys to be declared persona non grata, paving the way for them to be removed from Turkey.
Kavala, 64, was acquitted in February last year of charges linked to nationwide anti-government protests in 2013, but the ruling was overturned and joined to charges relating to a 2016 coup attempt. He faces a life sentence if convicted.
The European Court of Human Rights called for his release in 2019, saying his incarceration acted to silence him and was not supported by evidence of an offense. The Council of Europe says it will start infringement proceedings against Turkey at the end of November if Kavala is not freed.
Since Erdogan’s announcement, there has been no further official comment on action against the diplomats, who also include the ambassadors of the Netherlands, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway and New Zealand.
Several of the countries involved have said they have received no formal communication from the Foreign Ministry. Erdogan is due to chair a Cabinet meeting later Monday, when the crisis is expected to be discussed.
“The whole situation is a serious matter but we understand that the concerned countries have not yet been notified about any action,” European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said Monday.
A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters in Berlin that “we take note of the statements of the Turkish President with concern and also with incomprehension.”
“So far there has not been a formal announcement from the Turkish side,” Steffen Seibert said, adding that “we are in close talks with our partners who are affected by a similar threat.”
A group of about 40 pro-government protesters gathered near the U.S. embassy in Ankara on Monday demanding the removal of the 10 envoys. Members of the Youth Union of Turkey carried banners including a mock-up of an airline boarding pass.
Although Kavala’s continued incarceration has been widely criticized abroad, Turkey maintains he is being held according to the rulings of its independent judiciary.
Bugra, a professor of political economy, said the president’s comments, in which he compared her husband’s imprisonment to the treatment of “bandits, murderers and terrorists” in other countries, contradicted the principle of judicial independence.
As a member of the Council of Europe Turkey is bound by the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. Bugra said she regarded the ambassadors’ statement as an effort to curtail possible action against Turkey.
“The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers said it would impose sanctions if Osman is not released at the end of November,” she said. “This is something serious. I interpret the envoys’ initiative as a well-intentioned attempt to prevent things from becoming this way.”
The Turkish lira plummeted after Erdogan’s statement, hitting an all-time low of 9.85 against the dollar on Monday morning. The currency had been under pressure following interest rate cuts last week amid inflation that stands at nearly 20%.
Increased tensions with the West are likely to scare off foreign investment, further harming Turkey’s beleaguered economy.