A new website has been launched to make it easier for everyone interested to access information on Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as well as his trial and his conditions in prison.
The new website “Vigil for Öcalan” launched on 9 October on the 24th anniversary of the Kurdish leader’s expulsion from Syria.
The incident, which the Kurdish movement calls “the international plot”, pointing to roles played by international actors to force Öcalan out of Syria, led to his abduction in Kenya a year later and the PKK leader was eventually handed over to Turkey.
Öcalan was initially sentenced to death for treason and separatism on 29 June 1999, but his sentence was later commuted to a life sentence without parole when Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2002. In 2005, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that his trial was unfair, but nothing has been done to remedy this.
The leader of the PKK is being kept in a prison on İmralı island, where he was the only inmate until 2009, when five others were also transferred to the high security prison.
Meanwhile, every day for over ten years, Kurdish activists have held a vigil outside the Council of Europe in Strasbourg calling for freedom for Öcalan.
“Hundreds and thousands of people must have passed that vigil – politicians and local people – but how many of them know what it is for? As a first step towards making the vigil more visible, we are launching a dedicated website combining background information and news,” the initiative behind the new website said.
“The vigil is outside the Council of Europe because that organisation was set up specifically to protect human rights in Europe – and Turkey is a member,” it said. “The Council’s European Court of Human Rights has heard more cases about Turkey than about any other member state, and these have included cases about Öcalan’s trial and the conditions under which he is imprisoned.”
The Council’s European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) has visited Öcalan in İmralı island prison nine times. The news about the latest unexpected ad-hoc visit broke this week.
“After each visit they make recommendations, the Turkish government gives its response, and very little changes. In fact, many things have got a lot worse. Öcalan’s lawyers have not been allowed to see their client since 2011, apart from a cluster of five visits in response to the massive hunger strike undertake by 8,000 people in 2019. His family has been allowed only five visits since 2014. Before the CPT’s visit, Öcalan had not had contact with the outside world since a four-minute phone call with his brother eighteen months ago. And even after a few other prisoners were brought to the island, Öcalan was allowed only very limited time in their company. This isolation is completely forbidden by international law,” an article on the homepage of the website explains.
The website is designed to be accessible to those with little prior knowledge, and to provide a structured resource that will also be useful to those well-versed in the issues it discusses. It aims to set out clearly Öcalan’s history and importance, the details of his imprisonment, the roles and actions of the different European institutions that the vigil is designed to engage with, and some of the things that have been done to campaign for Öcalan’s release. It includes links to further sources of information about his ideas, and to campaigning organisations.
The website also includes a blog which will give news of key events concerning Öcalan’s situation and the vigil itself.