Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has been imprisoned for more than 22 years in Imralı Island Prison in Turkey. Kept in solitary confinement during the whole time, he has also been systematically denied access to his attorneys for the past ten years, apart from a few exceptional periods.
Ibrahim Bilmez, one of the attorneys who was last able to meet Öcalan in 2011, summarised the overall situation to MA.
“The state officially lied every week, starting after the last meeting on 27 July 2011 until 2016,” he pointed out. In denying access to his lawyers, they used two key excuses: “They either said that ‘there was a problem with the boat’ or ‘the weather was bad.’ They did this until the military coup attempt on 15 July 2016.”
The state arrived at a decision concerning Imralı Prison immediately after the coup attempt: “They took a decision right the very next day of the coup attempt, as if it was so urgent regarding the situation they were in. They put a direct ban on Imrali meetings of attorneys with no legal basis. There was a ban on all communications between Öcalan and his family members as well. So they started faxing us this decree whenever we made an application for a meeting.”
Following the 200-day long hunger strikes that began on 8 November 2018 under the leadership of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) Co-Chairwoman Leyla Güven to end the forced isolation of Öcalan, the ban was finally lifted through an appeals court ruling and attorneys were permitted to meet Öcalan on five occasions in 2019.
“After these five meetings, although there was officially no ban anymore, they started blocking our visits to the island again. It was totally arbitrary,” Bilmez added.
“Then, they started not even to respond to our applications. The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) released a report after its last visit to Imralı in 2019. Turkey was strongly criticized in the report. The ban on attorney meetings and visits of family members was criticized. The Turkish government was called upon to inform the CPT on a monthly basis concerning this situation.”
Bilmez observed that the Turkish state reacted to this by obtaining a new court ruling: “After that, our clients in Imralı were constantly imposed disciplinary penalties in order to create the grounds for the ban. The CPT stated that ‘the reasons shown for the penalties were unconvincing.’ In one case, Öcalan and four other clients in Imralı had penalties imposed on them for the stated reason that they talked to each other.”
Bilmez indicates that they are currently in a complete limbo, with no explanations being provided by the authorities.
“The ban on attorney meetings officially expired on 23 March as far as we know,” he said. “While there are rumours in the social media about the well-being of Öcalan, we continue to file an application every day, but they are not responding. We don’t even know for certain if there is an official ban or not. They are not telling us anything.”