International campaigns have been launched to end the prison isolation conditions in Turkey of Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan. After 21 years of isolation at İmralı, prisoners in Turkey have also recently initiated a hunger strike to demand an end to Öcalan’s isolation. Erdoğan Alayumat, a journalist from Mesopotamia Agency (MA), has assessed aspects of this isolation policy.
Since his abduction on 15 February 1999, Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan has been held in the High Security Prison which was altered and built specifically to house him. For 21 years, he has been incarcerated in the prison at İmralı Island.
According to Erdoğan Alayumat’s Mesopotamia Agency (MA) report, a large number of applications by Öcalan’s lawyers were rejected on the grounds of “disciplinary penalties” being given to Öcalan. His family applications were also largely rejected on the grounds of “disciplinary punishment”, whilst other applications were simply left unanswered.
From 2011 to 2019, Öcalan’s lawyers were prohibited from meeting with him. After numerous hunger strikes and death fasts by his supporters, he was allowed to meet his lawyers on 2 May 2019. Another four meetings were held that same year, but he has again been prohibited from meeting his lawyers since 7 August 2019. Öcalan has not been allowed to meet with his family members either. The last time he met with them was on 4 March, following a 20 minute phone call on 27 April. This was the first time that he was able to make a phone call to his family since his imprisonment.
‘The third way’ suggestion
When Öcalan was able to briefly talk with his brother Mehmet Öcalan about the crisis in politics in Turkey, he had reportedly voiced his suggestions that the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) could overcome bipolar politics. The ‘Third Way’ strategy that Öcalan recommended was formulated as follows: “There is a two legged table in Turkey. There are leftist movements and predominantly Kurds. There are other peoples, too. You have to become the third pillar. If the table has three legs, it will not fall. No matter how much the system tries to protect the two-legged table, it is doomed to collapse. Therefore, our formation is the Kurds, the third pillar. The formation of this third leg can lead to growth”.
A phone call after 21 years
The applications made by both lawyers and families to the Bursa Execution Judge were rejected after the pandemic started in March. The families of prisoners at İmralı who were not allowed to visit İmralı prison were allowed to make a phone call. Since the day he was in Imrali prison, Öcalan was able to use his right to make a phone call for the first time in 21 years.
During this 20-minute conversation with his brother Mehmet Öcalan, who was summoned to the Prosecutor’s Office, Öcalan also evaluated developments in the Federal Kurdistan Region. Öcalan said: “The policy of conflict between Kurds is being followed and Kurds will not gain anything from this. This policy will not be in the interests of the people of Turkey. Neither the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) nor the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) will benefit from this. Kurds need to be united. Kurds need peace and unity, not war and blood”.
Reminder of the 1982 protocol
Recalling the 10-point protocol signed with İdris Barzani, the father of Neçirvan Barzani in 1982, Öcalan stated that in accordance with the protocol, there will be no war between the Kurds. He reportedly said: “Talabani is also aware of this agreement. This agreement can be updated. Give my greetings to Neçirvan Barzani, Mesrur Barzani and the Talabani’s children. Let them know that if there is no unity of Kurds, nobody will do anything for the Kurds. Let them not trust anyone. The shedding of blood among Kurds is never acceptable; neither the public nor we can accept that. If there is a deficiency, it should be resolved through dialogue and peace should be achieved. Kurds should now agree that if there is a problem between them, they must solve it through dialogue. Those who will achieve this are the families of Barzani and Talabani and the friends in Qandil. Both the Kurdish people and our expectation is that blood will no longer be shed among the Kurds”.
The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), which visited İmralı Prison between 6-17 May 2019 – after lawyers had appealed against Öcalan’s isolation – released its report on 5 August. In the report, it was emphasized that a balance should be established between the security conditions regarding prisoners and basic human rights, and it was suggested that a “permanent system” should be established where regular family and lawyers’ visits could take place.
The CPT appealed to Turkey to take steps in this regard. However, on 23 September, Bursa 2nd Execution Judge decreed that there would be a ‘prohibition of attorneys visits’ to see Öcalan for six months. The decision was reportedly taken on grounds of “disciplinary punishment”.
Prison hunger strikes
This decision to intensify the isolation of Öcalan further led to the decision by prisoners to initiate the hunger strikes in which thousands of prisoners are participating in Turkey. Although the hunger strikes launched on 27 November are set to continue indefinitely and on a rotational basis, the hunger strikers have warned that they may turn their actions into indefinite and irreversible hunger strikes/death fasts if their demands are left unanswered. It is clear that the hunger strike initiative is aimed at ending the ongoing isolation prison conditions of Öcalan.