Osman Kavala is seen at European Parliament headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on December 11, 2014.
Istanbul CNN  — 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has slammed the decision by a major European human rights group to begin infringement proceedings against Ankara over its failure to free Osman Kavala, a Turkish businessman and philanthropist who has been behind bars for more than four years.

Erdogan accused the rights group, the Council of Europe, of ignoring its sovereignty on Thursday, saying: “We do not recognize those who do not recognize our courts. We expect our own courts to be respected. We are sorry but we will not respect those who do not respect us.”

In October, Erdogan ordered the ambassadors of 10 countries, including the United States, France and Germany, to be declared persona non grata after calling for Kavala’s release.

Kavala is among Turkey’s most high-profile detainees. He was first arrested in 2017 on charges related to the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul. The trial was closely watched by rights groups, who had accused the Turkish government of using the judicial system to crack down on dissenting voices. Though Kavala was acquitted in 2020, that verdict was overturned and new charges were brought against him for his alleged involvement in the 2016 attempted coup.

The Council of Europe said in a Wednesday statement its decision to move forward with infringement proceedings against Turkey, a founding member of the organization, “clearly indicates the serious concerns related with the case of Mr. Kavala, who has been kept in prison for years without a conviction.”

“Such attitude sets a worrying precedent and further increases the EU’s concerns regarding Turkish judiciary’s adherence to international and European standards,” it said.

The European Court of Human Rights had previously ruled that Kavala’s detention “took place in the absence of sufficient evidence” and ordered his release.

Kavala has denied the charges levied against him. His lawyer, lkan Koyuncu, said Thursday that espionage charges leveled against Kavala were “fabricated.”

“Osman Kavala’s pre-trial detention for four years and three months is a disgrace to the judiciary,” Koyuncu said.

Rights groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International applauded the Council’s decision.

“The message from the Committee of Ministers today is clear: Turkey must release Osman Kavala and end his politically motivated persecution,” Nils Muižnieks, Amnesty International’s Europe director, said in a statement Wednesday.