Turkish appeals court overturns acquittal in Gezi trial

FILE PHOTO: Riot police officers run after demonstrators on Istiklal Street in central Istanbul
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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Turkish appeals court on Friday overturned the acquittal of nine people, including philanthropist Osman Kavala, in a case related to nationwide protests in 2013, according to court documents seen by Reuters.

The case had ended with the surprise acquittal of nine defendants last February due to insufficient evidence. The trial was followed closely by Turkey's Western allies and rights groups, who said it was symbolic of what they saw as a crackdown on dissent under President Tayyip Erdogan.

The total of 16 defendants in the case were accused of organising and spreading the 2013 Gezi protests. The cases of seven defendants who did not attend the hearings were separated and their trial continues.

Court documents showed the appeals court had ruled on Friday to overturn the acquittal and sent the case back to the lower court.

Among the reasons for overturning the acquittal, the court said some evidence had not been included in the reasoning for the verdict, and that a second case against Kavala should also be considered while ruling in the Gezi case.

The demonstrations in 2013 saw hundreds of thousands march in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey against plans approved by then-premier Erdogan to build a replica Ottoman barracks in the city's Gezi Park.

Critics say Turkey's judiciary has been exploited to punish Erdogan's perceived opponents. The president and his AK Party say the courts make independent decisions.

Among those acquitted last year was philanthropist businessman Kavala, who was accused of financing the protests. He has remained in jail over charges related to a failed coup attempt in 2016 despite the European Court of Human Rights calling for his release.

After the acquittal, Erdogan said the protests were a "heinous attack" aimed at the state. He said the court had "set out to acquit (Kavala) with a manoeuvre", adding that the second arrest order must be respected.

All defendants in the Gezi trial deny the charges. Kavala also denies the charges related to the coup attempt.

(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen: Editing by Dominic Evans, William Maclean)