U.S. calls on Turkey to immediately release jailed philanthropist Osman Kavala

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FILE PHOTO: Ayse Bugra, wife of Osman Kavala, Turkish businessman and philanthropist, leaves the restaurant after learning that Istanbul prosecutor's office demanded the detention of her husband, in Silivri

(Reuters) - The United States on Wednesday called on Turkey to immediately release philanthropist and human rights activist Osman Kavala, who has been detained for more than three years without conviction.

"The specious charges against Kavala, his ongoing detention, and the continuing delays in the conclusion of his trial, including through the merger of cases against him, undermine respect for the rule of law and democracy," the U.S. State Department said.

Kavala was acquitted a year ago of charges related to 2013 anti-government protests, but was immediately rearrested on charges relating to a failed 2016 coup. An appeals court subsequently overturned his acquittal on the protest charges.

A Turkish court ruled on Friday to combine the two outstanding cases and rejected Kavala's request to be released.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry said Washington should respect legal proceedings in the courts.

"Turkey is a state of law. No country or person can give orders to Turkish courts about legal proceedings," it said, adding that issuing demands on Turkish courts while refusing to extradite U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara blames for the failed 2016 coup, was "inconsistent and unprincipled".

Kavala was accused by Turkey of collaborating with Henri Barkey, a prominent U.S.-based Turkey scholar, and both men were charged with attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.

An indictment alleged that Barkey had links to Gulen's network. Gulen denies involvement and Barkey has said the charges are a "complete fabrication".

"We also note with concern U.S. citizen Dr. Henri Barkey's inclusion in these unwarranted court proceedings. We believe the charges against Dr. Barkey to be baseless", the State Department said on Wednesday.

The State Department urged Turkey to abide by a European Court of Human Rights ruling in late 2019 that Kavala be released.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Editing by Leslie Adler and Jane Wardell)