DW documentary: Osman Kavala – A Voice from Prison


After Turkish art patron and human rights activist Osman Kavala’s life sentence was confirmed in December 2022, there has been little news from prison. An extensive written DW interview with Kavala and conversations with his wife Ayşe Buğra, his legal team and a business partner now provide detailed insights into the 65-year-old’s life behind bars.

DW will broadcast the documentary film “Osman Kavala: A Voice from Prison” (1×42) in six languages – English, German, Arabic, Spanish, Hindi and the original Turkish version with German subtitles – on YouTube from May 8 and on its TV channels from May 12. The ARD and ZDF media libraries as well as Phoenix will broadcast the documentary from May 11, a few days before the Turkish presidential election.

Kavala founded the Anadolu Kültür Foundation in 2002 to promote dialogue between different cultures and communities and to strengthen Turkish civil society. He is also an advocate for minority rights.

Accused of being a key figure in the 2013 mass protests against the Erdoğan government in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, Kavala was remanded in custody in fall 2017. Within hours of his acquittal and release in February 2020, he was rearrested and charged with attempted overthrow of the government. A life sentence followed in 2022, and his appeal failed. Turkey’s President Erdoğan personally rejected international criticism.

From prison, Kavala wrote to DW: “When I heard the verdict, what I felt was deep sorrow for the state of the judiciary and the judges in my country. There are many prisoners who are detained or sentenced by means of arbitrary decisions, and some of them have been behind bars longer than me.”

“In prison, you often worry about death. I have never been afraid of spending the rest of my life behind bars, but I don’t know when I will be released. My hope is that at least some of the people responsible for this injustice will be brought to justice. Not to satisfy my feelings of revenge, but to prevent this kind of judicial manipulation from happening again in the future,” Kavala said.

Erkan Arikan, DW Director of Turkish Service: “There is no doubt that Turkish society has been deeply divided since the Gezi protests. Many people, especially students, teachers and intellectuals, have been arrested. That Osman Kavala became a victim of Erdoğan’s policies shows how much the legal system has been bent by the president. Fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press no longer apply, certainly not to Kavala. All the more reason to honor the life of this cultural figure.”

Giving voice to the silenced

In the DW documentary, Turkish actor Kemal Kocatürk, who emigrated to Germany in 2017, lends his voice to Kavala by reciting his written statements on stage at Berlin’s Maxim Gorki Theater. 

DW director Linda Viere: “How do you make a film about someone who is in prison and whom you are not allowed to visit? It was important for us to show how it feels to be imprisoned, while at the same time trying to convey Kavala’s inner strength.”

Tim Klimeš, DW Head of Documentaries: “Silencing critics is part of the standard repertoire of repressive regimes. It is part of the task of journalism to counter the resulting silence, to give a voice to the silenced. Hopefully, this film will contribute to that.”

Rolf Rische, DW Director of Culture and Documentaries: “When people open up to documentary filmmakers and give them a glimpse into their inner lives, it’s always something special. When people like Osman Kavala and his wife Ayşe Buğra do this at the risk of their safety, it is both a great responsibility and an obligation. Our thanks also go to Kemal Kocatürk, the Turkish actor in exile, who lent his voice to Osman Kavala in our film, thereby exposing himself.

“Osman Kavala: A Voice from Prison” can be streamed worldwide on DW’s documentary-YouTube-channels in  English and Turkish with German subtitles starting today and in Arabic and Spanish on May 12 and in Hindi on May 19.​​​​

TV broadcast times:

DW English 5/12/2013 – 01:15 UTC
DW German 5/12/2013 – 05:00 UTC 
DW German+ 5/12/2013 – 05:00 UTC 
DW Español 5/12/2013 – 05:15 UTC 
DW Arabia 5/12/2013 – 05:00 UTC

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