By Ali Kucukgocmen
SILIVRI, Turkey, Feb 18 (Reuters) - A Turkish court on Tuesday ruled to acquit businessman Osman Kavala and eight other defendants over their alleged role in Gezi Park protests in 2013, in a case that had drawn strong criticism from Western allies and human rights groups.
Applause erupted in the courtroom and some people cried in disbelief when the decision was announced. A guilty verdict had been widely expected in the case, widely regarded as a test of justice in Turkey.
Philanthropist Kavala was ordered to be released after more than two years in jail. The European Court of Human Rights in December called for his immediate release, saying there was a lack of reasonable suspicion that he had committed an offence.
Kavala and two other defendants had been facing life sentences without parole, while the other defendants were accused of aiding them in attempting to overthrow the government by organising the protests.
The case of seven further defendants, who are abroad and were being tried in absentia, was separated but arrest warrants for them were lifted. One lawyer said they were also expected to be acquitted.
Kavala had been accused of attempting to overthrow the government by organising and funding protests against then-Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. Kavala denied the allegations.
The protests began in Istanbul's Gezi Park and spread nationwide over several months.
Critics of Erdogan's government have questioned the independence of Turkish courts, especially since a crackdown following a failed coup in 2016. Erdogan and his ruling AK Party say the judiciary makes independent decisions.
(Additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.