The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has requested Turkey to submit its defence regarding five different applications made by the Diyarbakır Bar Association, including one regarding life sentences without parole, Mezopotamya News Agency reported on Saturday.
Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and hence also the Kurdish liberation movement, who has been imprisoned since 1999, and three other prisoners, were cited in the application made by the bar association, lawyer Mehdi Özdemir told Mezopotamya News Agency.
Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004 and replaced it with what is called “aggravated life sentence”; life imprisonment with no prospect of early release, that may involve severe restrictions of movement in prison or prolonged solitary confinement.
In a 2014 decision over a complaint made on behalf of Öcalan regarding his imprisonment conditions, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Turkey had violated Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment.
Europe’s top human rights court also made similar decisions for three other prisoners cited in the bar association’s recent application, Hayati Kaytan, Emin Gurban ve Civan Boltan, stating that their life imprisonment without possibility of review amounted to inhuman punishment.
Diyarbakır Bar Association had previously made similar applications on aggravated life sentences to the court, but the ECHR did not take action as bar associations were not acknowledged as non-governmental organisations eligible to submit communications to the decision-making body of the Council of Europe, the Committee of Ministers.
On 6 July the committee opened the way for bar associations in member countries to submit communications decision, by amending a rule regarding the supervision of the execution of judgments and of the terms of friendly settlements.
The decision adds organisations such as bar associations, law societies or other lawyers’ associations among non-governmental organisations that are eligible to submit communications to the committee.
The Diyarbakır Bar Association resubmitted its application after this, Mehdi said, adding that as lawyers they were requesting structural changes in the Turkish system that will allow early release for whole-life sentences.
“They [the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers] have requested a defence from Turkey regarding our demands. The first assessment will be made after Turkey submits its defence,” Özdemir told Mezopotamya News Agency.
According to Turkey’s Justice Ministry, there were 1,453 people in jails sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment as of 2014. The ministry has not updated those figures, while the number of prisoners who received or may receive life sentences without parole has peaked in recent years.
In cases related to the 2016 failed coup attempt alone, the courts sentenced 1,634 people to aggravated life imprisonment, while they have demanded similar sentences for many jailed Kurdish MPs and mayors with varying charges related to “terrorism”.