Mehmet Emin Özkan, a gravely ill 84-year-old Kurdish political prisoner, was set free on Monday, marking an end to a strenuous 27 year-long incarceration, a tenure marked by credible evidence asserting his innocence and persistent pleas to consider his declining health.
According to daughter Selma Özkan, father Özkan was transferred to an intensive care unit on 13 July following a severe health crisis in prison. After initial treatment in handcuffs, he was moved from the intensive care unit to a normal ward the following Sunday, only to be taken back to prison. His detention was finally deferred due to an accelerating decline in health.
Selma said fellow prisoners had informed her of the hospitalisation. Her father, suffering with low blood pressure and inflammation, had been hospitalised five times since the Eid al-Adha holiday, she said.
Upon release, a frail Özkan, supported by his kin due to age and illness, was warmly greeted by cheering relatives outside the prison.
“I’ve stood strong until now, keeping my promise. The sacrifices I’ve made are insignificant in my eyes. I’ll continue to resist, no matter what. The burden of prison is heavy, but our friends there are showing remarkable strength. It’s hard to put into words the scale of this resistance, which is as strong inside prison as it is outside. Despite everything the Turkish state has done, our resistance remains unbroken,” Özkan said.
Özkan emerged as a symbol representing sick prisoners in Turkey who were denied their release. After a prolonged struggle led by human rights organisations, his release finally came to fruition.
Despite never having ventured beyond his own village until his arrest 27 years ago, Özkan was accused of being responsible for the assassination of Brigadier General Bahtiyar Aydın in Diyarbakır’s (Amed) Lice (Licê) district in 1993.
A military operation, known today as the Lice Massacre, was carried out in response to the brigadier general’s murder, in which at least 14 civilians were killed and numerous houses and other buildings in the district were burnt.
Özkan was the only person sentenced in connection with the Lice Massacre, tried separately for the murder of the brigadier general, and sentenced to life imprisonment. The witnesses who testified against Özkan later retracted their statements, saying that the confessions were made under torture. Özkan’s request for a retrial was accepted, but he remained in jail.
The court case of the 1993 military operation was recently dropped 30 years later on the grounds that there was no longer any surviving defendants.