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February 15th 2022, marked 23 years since the abduction and imprisonment of the Kurdish political leader Abdullah Öcalan.
Every year since his incarceration, a peace delegation has visited Turkey to demand access to Abdullah Öcalan on his island prison of Imrali. Just yesterday, the most prominent international peace delegation to date, organised by the International initiative, Freedom for Abdullah Öcalan, Peace in Kurdistan, and British trade unions, has completed a two-day virtual fact-finding mission in Turkey assessing the ongoing 23 years of aggravated solitary confinement of Abdullah Öcalan, the recognised leader of the Kurdish people.
The delegation met with political representatives, human rights organisations, women’s organisations, prisoners associations and their families, and lawyers, including those of the Asrin law office representing Abdullah Öcalan, with whom contact has been denied in breach of international law.
The delegation will produce a full report but their initial general findings according to their press release have been:
The delegation found:
1) The isolation regime at Imrali island, where Abdullah Öcalan has been imprisoned for 23 years in breach of international law and human rights conventions, is now being introduced throughout the prison system in Turkey. Isolation F-type prisons are being built, and within present prison walls, isolation of political prisoners is becoming standard practice and the imposition of severe disciplinary sanctions.
2) Under these conditions, political prisoners are being mistreated and tortured, elderly people and individuals with serious illnesses are denied medical treatment.
3) Rape and sexual abuse committed by village guards and military or prison personnel is common practice in a system that guarantees impunity to perpetrators.
4) Freedom of speech is non-existent in Turkey. Thousands of people are constantly being persecuted, arrested, kept in pre-trial confinement for long periods and then given heavy prison sentences based on political whim. Those who do not agree to say they regret their “wrong-doings” or fail to show “good manners” face aggravated punishment.
5) Abdullah Öcalan’s right to legal defence has been violated. His lawyers have confirmed that there has been no communication with him since 25.3.2021.
The delegation reported that the Turkish authorities have deepened the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan after the Council of Europe´s Commission against Torture (CPT) declared in August 2020 that “solitary confinement” as practised on İmralı Island was “not acceptable” and that steps to improve this situation should be taken “without further delay.”
They said that the Turkish government has responded with bans on further visits, whether with family or lawyers, and the prohibition of telephone contact, thus further aggravating the isolation conditions.
The Imrali delegation delegates issued a joint call on the CPT to follow up on their declarations that Turkey respects international law and demand to meet directly with Ocalan and his lawyers.
The delegation voiced deep concern by the failure of the Turkish authorities to comply with the recommendations of international human rights bodies, and even more so by the silence of international bodies, and in particular by the fact that the CPT delegation visiting Turkey in 2021 did not visit Imrali or even provide any information about Öcalan’s state of health.
They said that all these years, despite the torture he’s endured, Öcalan’s message remains one of conciliation as he continuously insists on peace and democracy. His presence at a negotiating table is essential for peace in the region.
The delegation appealed to all institutions worldwide responsible for international conventions on human rights and the rule of law to demand that the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan be ended without delay.
Clare Baker, a delegate on the Imrali Delegation:
I’m very happy and honoured to be joined today by Clare Baker, who is the International officer for one of the largest British trade unions, Unite and one of the key organisers of the Freedom for Ocalan Campaign in the UK Trade Unions, and one of the participants of this years Imrali delegation which had a high representation of UK trade union officials.
Clare began by giving some background to the establishment of the Freedom for Öcalan campaign in the UK trade union movement. She said that the Freedom for Öcalan campaign began in 2016 due to the world seeing the situation of the Kurds in Kobane resisting ISIS. Trade unionists were appalled at how obvious it was which side the Turkish state supported by not allowing Kurds to cross the border. The Freedom for Öcalan campaign began to consolidate solidarity with the Kurds and was launched in the UK parliament by the founding unions Unite and the GMB unions. The campaign has since grown to include 17 UK Unions and Thompsons, the trade union law firm.
Clare emphasised that as a relatively young campaign, she is proud that it has grown so big in such a short amount of time. She said the campaign has done some big actions at various trade union events and has got the message out about who Abdullah Öcalan is and the situation facing the Kurds. She said they had done large events and actions at the Trades Union Congress (the largest Trade Union federation in the UK) conference. There have been international themes at annual working-class traditional events such as the Durham Miners Gala and Tolpuddle Martyrs festival. Although the campaign is new and has a long way to go, she is proud of how much support the campaign has already achieved. She is also doing a lot of work for international support to get the message out about the situation of Abdullah Öcalan and the Kurdish people more and more in the trade union world.
She said they had tried to send high-profile people from the trade union movement because leaders of trade unions, presidents and general secretaries need to visit and engage with the issues and see for themselves the situation of Öcalan in Imrali prison and see the difficulties that everyone has faced trying to see him.
She said that many of the delegates who were new to the issue, including herself, were utterly shocked by the situation facing the Kurdish people generally but especially the political prisoners and particularly Öcalan. She said it had motivated and inspired people to do more work. The delegates had felt disgusted with their own governments for not pressuring Turkey to uphold international law to which they are signatories. She spoke about one particular person the delegation with whom the delegation had spoken. They were facing trial under what she described as ‘trumped-up ‘terrorism’ charges. Clare described these as the ‘go to’ tactics to discredit activists and politicians. She expressed how brave and inspirational it was to speak to someone facing such horror but still brave enough to speak out and to the delegation.
Clare said the delegation had met with various parties, women’s organisations, human rights groups, lawyers groups, including the lawyers of Öcalan, prisoners’ families associations, and a wide selection of various groups and individuals. The delegation will be producing a full report of their findings.
On the 15 February, marking the 23rd year of Ocalan’s imprisonment, Clare was on the organising team who organised an online public meeting. An impressive list of speakers attended both from the UK trade unions and international speakers. Clare agreed that she was struck by the contribution of the UCU President Vicky Blake and some of the things she said about being so shocked and ashamed when she finally realised the horrible reality of the Turkish state’s repressive policies towards the Kurdish people’s struggle. Clare said that it was particularly inspiring to hear Vicky’s speech as she is the President of a large union and has recently signed up for the campaign.
Fazela Mohamed, a speaker from South Africa, was also very inspiring as she spoke about the similarities and parallels with the situation of Abdullah Öcalan and Nelson Mandela. Clare said there were so many comparisons to make with the South African struggle against Apartheid, and to hear from someone who was part of that struggle was so inspiring. Clare pointed out that one of the important differences between Mandela and Öcalan was that while Nelson Mandela was able to meet with his lawyers regularly, Abdullah Öcalan is not.
Clare expressed some of the frustrations and challenges that the campaign faces, such as a lack of reporting in the British media and hence a lack of awareness amongst ordinary working-class people and the whole society and urged the need to push and move forward with speed and energy.
She said that she is so proud to be part of the Freedom for Öcalan campaign and that she hopes that the campaign gives inspiration and shows to the Kurdish people that they are not alone in this fight. She urged people to push the campaign forward, put pressure on politicians and governments, and have meaningful discussions about the situation of Öcalan, the Kurdish people’s condition, and the amazing progressive society in Rojava the Kurds are building. The Freedom of Abdullah Öcalan is important for peace and democracy not just in Turkey but the whole of the Middle East.
A full list of the delegates on the Imrali Delegation are as follows:
Andrea Kocsondi, Member of the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) Executive, UK.
Barbara Spinelli, Co-president of the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy & World Human Rights.
Christine Blower, former General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers in Britain.
Clare Baker, International officer for the British union, Unite and organiser of the Freedom For Ocalan Campaign.
Claire Jones General Secretary of the Society of Union Employees (SUE) in the UK.
Dimitri Roussopoulos, Publisher and editor, ecologist writer, and community organizer.
Doug Nicholls, leader of the General Federation of Trade Unions, UK.
Federico Venturini, Research Associate at the University of Udine (Italy).
Kariane Westrheim, Professor of Educational Science at the University of Bergen, Chair of EUTCC, Norway.
Laura Quagliuolo, Italian editor and writer.
Mahmoud Patel, Academic, legal scholar and human rights activist, South Africa.
Margaret Owen OBE, Barrister in the UK.
Melanie Gingell, Barrister and a lecturer on International Human Rights Law.
Radha D’Souza, Professor of Law, barrister and writer, currently teaching law at the University of Westminster in the UK.
Şerife Ceren Uysal, Co-Secretary General of the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy & World Human Rights.
Shavanah Taj, General Secretary, TUC, Wales.
Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Scholar of sociology at the University of Cambridge,
Ögmundur Jónasson, former Icelandic Minister of Justice