The 9th of October is the 24th anniversary of Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) being driven from Syria under Turkish and international pressure, beginning the process which led to his eventual capture in Kenya with the collaboration of international intelligence agencies.
The situation of the imprisoned Kurdish political figurehead was also on the news this week as a delegation of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) carried out an ad hoc, unannounced visit to Turkey’s İmralı island where Öcalan is being held.
Hundreds of lawyers also recently launched a petition demanding an end to the ban on Öcalan’s communications with the outside world, asserting his ‘right to hope’ against the claims of the Turkish government’s lawyers who say that the Kurdish leader is exempt from any right to expect amelioration of his sentence.
Medya News spoke with Havin Güneser of the International Initiative for Freedom for Öcalan to get her perspective on Öcalan’s legal situation and his relevance for t
he solution of the political crisis in the Middle East and beyond.
Guneser painted a stark picture of conditions for the imprisoned leader.
“He as a person, and what he’s being subjected to, is highly important. Let me point out that we know less and less about his conditions. Öcalan never actually emphasised what he really experiences in the İmralı prison, because he did not find it very moral that these kind of things should be used as a bargaining stick by the Turkish state.”
The situation of Öcalan and the other inmates accompanying him in the İmralı prison is subject to a regime of torture, according to Güneser.
“Each and every approach taken against Öcalan and the other prisoners on the island is highly calculated, with the intended result – he is watched 24 hours a day through cameras, and he is also watched through a loophole on the door to his cell, and we know even that is used to torture him… For years there was a light on for 24 hours a day… He was brought half-eaten food… There was an attempted poisoning… and self-confinement policies even when he was the sole inmate on the island,” she said.
As such, Guneser stressed the importance of continued initiatives to seek access to the Kurdish leader, to demand an improvement in his conditions and his ultimate release, adding that international bodies and the Turkish authorities could not be expected to fulfil their legal responsibilities:
“We see that the laws do not offer hope whatsoever, but what is really important is that, of course, there is pressure mounted by lawyers, NGOs and society on these institutions and organs. Not only the Council of Europe, but all over Europe, in order to make sure that even these limited legal frameworks can also work for Abdullah Öcalan,” Güneser explained.
The campaigner put a question mark over the recent visit of the CPT to İmralı, suggesting that this visit had been permitted by the Turkish authorities only as a concession to avoid having to fulfil their legal responsibilities toward Öcalan.
“I must agree with the KCK co-chair Cemil Bayık that it raises high suspicions as to the intent of such a visit, because we know Turkey was expected to deliver an answer to the committee of ministers’ human rights meeting in relation to the aggravated life sentence, and how the Turkish state intends to implement the decision of the Court of Human Rights, because as we know there was no such response yet,” Güneser said.
Nonetheless, Guneser stressed the fact that Öcalan had managed to communicate his political thoughts to the outside world, and had, in doing so, inspired mass movements across the globe. In particular, she highlighted the recent uprising in Iran sparked by the death of a Kurdish woman, Jina Amini.
“His ideas are spilling over to all around the world, to East Kurdistan, Rojhilat and Iran in general,” Güneser said. Despite the attempt to hijack any kind of struggle, especially the one in Iran, we should be clear that the message Öcalan is giving is reaching the people, not only the women, but also society at large.”