When Recep Tayyip Erdogan rose to power in the early 2000s, he cast himself as the leader of a model Muslim democracy whose top priority was membership in the European Union. Slowly but relentlessly, he has evolved into a swaggering strongman whose role models are Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.
Mr. Kavala, 63, is a mild-mannered businessman, philanthropist and cultural activist known for such initiatives as promoting reconciliation between Turks and Armenians. He was never a politician or an opposition leader, but he exemplified the liberal, secular side of Turkey that Mr. Erdogan despises. Nearly three years ago, he was abruptly jailed and subjected to a vicious defamation campaign in pro-government media; Mr. Erdogan referred to him as a “local collaborator” of “the famous Hungarian Jew” George Soros, the subject of countless conspiracy theories in Turkey and elsewhere.
Thousands of political prisoners rot in his jails. None illustrates this contemptible transformation more vividly than Osman Kavala, who last week was charged with espionage and attempting to overthrow the government.
Mr. Kavala was eventually charged with organizing anti-government protests that erupted in Istanbul in 2013. The European Court of Human Rights, which Turkey is bound by, found there was no case against him and ordered his release last December. Two months later, a Turkish court acquitted him. But Mr. Kavala was rearrested before he could leave jail, even as Mr. Erdogan complained about the verdict.