Translated from Yeni Özgür Politika
İmralı is the prototype of a solitary confinement and torture system. Held in solitary confinement for 21 years at İmralı Prison in Turkey, Abdullah Öcalan has indicated that the İmralı system itself is “three-legged”. It had its origins “in the US, in Europe and in Turkey and is a system with specific features and operational modes”.
The first step of the intervention plan for the Middle East by global forces sought to remove Abdullah Öcalan from Syria in 1998. Another stage ensured that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader, Abdullah Ocalan, was ‘delivered’ to Turkey on 15 February 1999. Another stage saw him placed on trial and after the last exceptional phone call (on 27 April 2020) was permitted, Öcalan and the other three prisoners are not allowed to talk to any family members or lawyers or allowed to receive any phone calls. They have been cut off from the outside world.
imprisoned at İmralı High Security F-Type Prison. Whilst still in Syria, Öcalan had developed a “Democratic Middle East Project” as an alternative to the Great Middle East Project of the USA. Öcalan’s involvement in the plans for the Middle East with this project made him a “game changer”, in his own words. Therefore, the capitalist powers who were trying to liquidate Öcalan, who was seen as an obstacle, put the İmralı System into operation.
It is designed for Öcalan
On 4 February 1999, before being delivered to Turkey, CIA officials came to Turkey and signed a ‘secret’ protocol with Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, MİT. With this protocol, İmralı was designed and rebuilt for Öcalan as the sole prisoner. On 15 February, he was delivered to MİT members at Nairobi Airport, in Kenya. Öcalan was flown to Turkey and imprisoned at İmralı.
The role of the USA
İmralı Prison, which was designed with a secret protocol, has turned into an area where laws in Turkey and international law do not function. In the last 21 years, the USA played an important role in the implementation of policies that helped to shape and determine the physical and prison isolation conditions of Öcalan.
The role of the European Union, on the other hand, showed itself in the form of its rejection of Öcalan’s right to asylum (something that was in accordance with the USA’s policy), which led to processes leading to the abduction of Öcalan in Kenya, and its participation in the establishment of İmralı Prison, and approval of his ‘pirated abduction’ (rendition) with the decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Öcalan expressed that the role attributed to Turkey was ‘to guard’ and not go beyond that.
First ‘Guantanamo style’ prison
The establishment of İmralı Prison is basically based on the USA’s understanding of Guantanamo. Guantanamo is the name of a torture system that the USA established against its political opponents on the basis of ‘pirate abductees’ – a ‘rendition’ linked system which is not permissible by law and which is based on breaking the will of its political opponents and pulling them into line.
The USA first started this system with the ‘pirate abduction’ (rendition’) of Öcalan and his imprisonment in İmralı island, and since the international community remained a spectator of this illegality, it started the same method against other political opponents in its Guantanamo Bay prison. For this reason, İmralı prison can be regarded as the first Guantanamo Bay styled prison. There are two main features of such prisons that have been established by the USA. The first is based on ‘pirate abduction’ (‘rendition’), which is publicly known as placing people in ‘floating’ and ‘flying’ prisons. Second, neither national nor international laws apply to these prisons.
Conditions are much more severe than at Guantanamo
Although İmralı Prison is often associated with Guantanamo Bay, it actually operates under much more systematic and harsh conditions than Guantanamo Bay. For example, even in Guantanamo Bay, communication facilities such as family and lawyer visits or telephone, letter, fax, and telegrams are not prohibited. There is no one else in the world kept in such conditions as Öcalan. However, this illegal practice is unique to İmralı Prison. Öcalan’s admission of lawyers, families and visitors, and his right to communication, was banned by a court decision, which has turned into a political tool.
The ‘three-legged system’ in İmralı
As already noted, Öcalan has described the İmralı Prison system as “three-legged”. He has noted that: “İmralı is very different from the other prison system in Turkey. The status of other prisons is not applied here. The status and structure of the place is based on a secret agreement. The USA has established such prisons in many places with similar secret agreements. İmralı prison is one of the private prisons established by the USA by a secret agreement. The approval of the EU was also taken. The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) is also aware of what is going on here”.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), with its decision dated 12 May 2005, ignored the illegal abduction of Öcalan and approved the international ‘pirate abduction’. To compensate for the response to this decision, its appeal for a retrial was made, but this was clearly not implemented by Turkey. Thus, the legal process could not go beyond being a public relations ‘side-show’.
Ocalan assessed the situation in the following way: “The Kurdish issue was intensively discussed and negotiations took place within an EU-USA-Turkey context. The Turkish state insists upon supporting the nationalist Kurdish nation-state formation in Iraq in exchange for liquidating the line of freedom and democracy and providing broad economic concessions. It has become more evident that there are intense discussions taking place on these issues. These concessions and compromises have already been carried out openly with the USA. So, the most important compromise made was to put me in İmralı prison. I am kept under the possibility of facing extrajudicial execution and the recognition of the right to a fair trial is denied whilst the liquidation of the Kurdish freedom movement in Turkey continues.
ECHR recommendations ignored
The decision of the ECHR, dated 18 March 2014, regarding Öcalan’s prison conditions, was in the form of partially accepting his imprisonment as a violation and partially approving it. With this decision, the ECHR ruled that Öcalan’s isolation in prison until 17 November 2009 – regarding his torture and ill-treatment – was a human rights violation under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
However, what crucially needs to be recognised were the laws of 1 June 2005, which negatively aggravated the prison conditions that were imposed on Öcalan. He was presented as a “dangerous person”, “a terrorist” and one who required “high security”. The ECHR, which accepted that part of the regulation imposing “heavy life imprisonment until death” for Öcalan represented a penal execution policy that violated Article 3 of the Convention, recommended that the government rearrange the penalty to a maximum of 25 years. Turkey, however, has not abided by this recommendation.
Despite the decisions of the ECHR and the CPT recommendations to Turkey, Öcalan’s prison conditions have worsened. The applications made by Öcalan’s lawyers to the ECHR have not been decided upon conclusively, although many years have passed since they were made. After the coup d’état of 15 July 2016, increasingly severe isolation practices have been imposed on Öcalan’s family, lawyers, guardians and all kinds of visitors. There is a “complete and absolute isolation” policy in place with a court decision to ban any visits, letters, telephone calls, faxes and any kinds of communications with Öcalan.
Although the State of Emergency (OHAL) was lifted in 2018 in Turkey, the implementation of an isolation policy on Öcalan has continued through court decisions. Although a lawyer ban was lifted on 17 April 2019, it continued, in effect, except for five exceptional interviews, and the lawyer ban was made official again alongside bans on family visits, telephone calls, letters and any other communication via further court decisions in 2020.
Öcalan has commented on the İmralı System: “Nobody can endure these conditions even for 6 days. The capitalist world system has captured me and the state holds me as a trump card, a hostage. I’m a political hostage here. My position should be known like this. I can explain this with an analogy: I’m like someone tied to a respirator. They can pull the plug on me whenever they want. An aggravated isolation situation already means execution. There is nobody else in the world facing these conditions”.
It is worse than a death sentence
As a matter of fact, as soon as he was taken to İmrali Prison, Öcalan’s death sentence became the main topic of discussion. However, instead of executing Öcalan, a decision was made to kill him slowly under isolation by keeping him in a “coffin”, as Öcalan says, in a one-man island prison. According to Öcalan; both forms represent “execution, only the method is different”.
Most importantly, Öcalan’s health problems have not been treated, and his health problems have increased and worsened in parallel with his worsening prison conditions over the years. In this situation, the transition from the “coffin” in which he was kept to another narrow and airless “coffin” at the end of 2009 has accelerated the killing process.
With these changes in the prison architecture, which Öcalan called the ’17 November coup’ and ‘death pit’, his room would be made even more airless and confined. This situation aggravated Öcalan’s health problems, caused by lack of air. Also, five prisoners who had been transferred to the prison where they are currently located was not an ‘improvement’, as presented to the public. These prisoners are being subjected to the same isolation system as Öcalan.
“Buried” in İmralı
The policy of “killing” Öcalan over time was also facilitated by the process of complete cessation of lawyer meetings with him as of 27 July 2011, and the arrest of all of his lawyers who attended the Oslo process on 22 November 2011. The second step was the cessation of family and guardian talks as of 6 October 2014. As a third step, with the cessation of the delegation talks as of April 2015, the process that Öcalan called “absolute isolation” began. The authorities defined this process as “burying Öcalan in İmralı”. The fourth step was the interruption of lawyer, guardian and delegation meetings with the decision of Bursa’s 1st Execution Judge (dated 20 July 2016) after the coup of 15 July 2016, and the interruption of all forms of communication with Öcalan.
Hunger strikes break the isolation
As a result of the hunger strikes of 2019, which were undertaken to demand increased rights for Öcalan, his lawyers were allowed to go to İmralı after eight years and meet with him. Lawyers continued to go to İmralı after the hunger strikes ended on their 200th day, after Öcalan’s request to them to do so. Having met with his lawyers five times as a result of the hunger strikes, Öcalan stated that he was ready to solve the Kurdish problem through democratic means at every meeting he had with them. Except for these five exceptional meetings with his lawyers (which arose after pressure was exerted by the hunger strike campaign), his isolation situation was made official again in 2020 via court decisions. Through such court decisions, the state of “absolute isolation” of Öcalan has been imposed. As a matter of fact, after the last exceptional phone call (on 27 April 2020) was permitted, Öcalan and the other three prisoners are not allowed to talk to any family members or lawyers or allowed to receive any phone calls. They have been cut off from the outside world.