After rumours circulated on social media regarding the well being of imprisoned Kurdish leader, Abdullah Öcalan there have been many calls by his lawyers, family members and human rights organisations for urgent visits to Imrali Island prison of his legal team to confirm he is alive and well and take legal instruction from their client.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan has been imprisoned on İmralı Island near Istanbul since he was arrested in 1999. No news has been heard from him since 27 April 2020.
His family and his lawyers have not received any responses to their multiple applications since then.
After rumors of his death circulated on social media on 14 March, the firm of lawyers of Asrın Law Bureau who act on behalf of the Kurdish leader, applied to the Bursa Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Ministry of Justice to meet with their clients, (Asrin also act on behalf of other prisoners held on the prison island) but they have still not received any responses to the applcation, according to Mesopotamia Agency.
Meanwhile, a widespread hunger strike throughout more than 150 prisons in Turkey continues to its 111th day. The political prisoners who are leading the hunger strikes demand that the isolation on Abdullah Öcalan be lifted and that the systematic violations of human rights in prisons be ended.
First visit after 8-year ban
From 2011 to 2019, Öcalan’s lawyers were prohibited from meeting with their clients. After widespread hunger strikes and death fasts by Kurdish political prisoners, led by Democratic Society Congress (DTK) Co-Chair Leyla Guven, which resulted in the deaths of 9 hunger strikers, Abdullah Öcalan was allowed to see his lawyer on 2 May 2019.
On 16 May 2019, when the hunger strikes were still ongoing, Turkey’s Minister of Justice Abdülhamit Gül said, “The decisions regarding the ban have been lifted.”
After this statement, the lawyers were able to go to İmralı Island on 22 May, 12-18 June, and 7 August 2019 but he has been again prohibited from meeting his lawyers since 7 August 2019 and all subsequent applications of the lawyers were either been unanswered or rejected.
4 times ban on meeting with lawyers
The first ban on lawyer-client meeting in Imralı Prison as well as meetings with family and banned from using communication technology was introduced on 20 July 2016. Since then 4 bans were imposed on Abdullah Öcalan’s meeting with his lawyers, each lasted for 6 months.
The last ban ends on the 2 April
On 23 September 2020, the Bursa 2nd Execution Judge signed a decision of banning, prohibiting Abdullah Öcalan and the other inmates in Imralı Island prison from meeeting with their lawyers upon the request of the Bursa Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.
156-page “Road Map” submitted to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) by Abdullah Öcalan was shown as a “ground” for the final ban on visits.
This ban ends on 2 April, but the lawyers and the human rights defenders released no further statement whether they expect a fifth ban to be introduced or not after this date.
First phone call after 21 years
Abdullah Öcalan is not allowed to meet with family members either. He was not able to use his right to communicate with the outside world since 15 February 1999 as his right to electronic communication has also been prevented by a de facto ban.
Following the Covid-19 pandemic leading to concerns both among his lawyers and his family, Öcalan was allowed to speak with his brother on a phone call on 27 April 2020.
After this first phone call in 21 years, a new ban on phone calls was again reintroduced.
Bans on family visits
The last time he was able to be visited by his family members was on 3 March 2020, following the twenty-minute phone call on 27 April.
3 months ban on family visits were given on 14 September 2018. Although the ban ended on14 December 2008, applications made on 14, 21, and 28 December 2018 were all rejected on the grounds of the same ban.
The Asrın Law Bureau applied to the Constitutional Court regarding the 3-month ban, but on 22 April 2019, another ban on family visits was introduced for 3 months.
The grounds for this ban was shown as a “disciplinary penalty”.
Call for “unity” from Abdullah Öcalan
On 27 February 2020 a fire erupted on İmralı Island, Bursa Governor’s Office released a statement on the issue, saying that the fire erupted in a location far from the İmralı Prison, on the northern part of the island.
After the massive public reaction concerning Abdullah Öcalan’s well-being, he was allowed to be visited by his brother Mehmet Öcalan on 3 March 2020
“At this age, I still work all day and night. I am looking for solutions. I’m not doing anything for myself. But we gave a promise to our people. Our people paid such a price. We have been working for 50 years,” Öcalan said in a message he shared with his brother on 3 March 2020 visit.
“There’s a two-legged table in Turkey. You have to be the other leg, so the table won’t fall on the ground if it has three legs,” Öcalan told his brother.
“If all people are united, they would become powerful. This is how a solution would be achieved. Nobody will simply offer you one,” Öcalan said about North East Syria, known as Rojava and added, “The unity of Syria won’t be achieved unless the Kurds, Arabs, Armenians and Christians in Rojava are all empowered.”
On 30 September 2020, family visits were banned again on the ground of a “disciplinary penalty”, but there have been no further explanations or statements from the Turkish authorities as to why Abdullah Öcalan or other inmates of Imralı Prison were given a disciplinary penalty.
Given the fact that the disciplinary penalties have long been used as an excuse to further violate the rights of the political prisoners in Turkey, using the “disciplinary penalty” as a ground to ban the family and lawyer visits to Imralı Island has created much debate and discussions regarding the human rights violations on Imralı Island.
The ban was supposed to have ended as of 4 March as the previous bans on visits have always been announced to be for three-months, but still Abdullah Öcalan’s lawyers have not been able to receive any further information regarding the length or length of any extension of the ban, which was supposed to have ended two weeks ago.