After some 2,000 lawyers from Turkey and around the globe called on Turkey’s Justice Ministry to break the imposed isolation of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan, European lawyers redoubled their demands at an online press conference on Tuesday.
At the conference, the lawyers stressed that the imposed isolation of Öcalan, who has been prevented from any contact with lawyers or family members since March 2021, was a serious and systematic violation of the rights of both prisoners and lawyers.
Öcalan, who has been held on the prison island of İmralı since his capture in 1999, was allowed to hold brief telephone conversations with his brother Mehmet Öcalan in March 2021 and in the previous year. The last meetings the PKK leader was allowed to hold with his lawyers took place during a three-month spell in 2019.
At the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights (ELDH)’s online press meeting, representatives from different countries called on the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) to revisit İmralı Prison.
ELDH co-chair Barbara Spinelli defined the international struggle against the isolation of Öcalan and the three other PKK members serving prison sentences in İmralı Prison, Hamili Yıldırım, Ömer Hayri Konar and Veysi Aktaş, as the most attended legal case in the world.
While the lawyers at Tuesday’s press conference said they did not expect an immediate Turkish response to their demands, they vowed to continue the international struggle in support of Öcalan.
“It will be very difficult for the Turkish government to ignore such a global demand,” Spinelli said.
Spinelli also said the İmralı prisoners’ rights had been cruelly violated over a long period and called on the Turkish government to comply with the principles of international law that it legally acknowledges.
Lawyers say the isolation imposed on Öcalan and other İmralı prisoners violates the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, also known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, and also contravenes the UN’s Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, which specifically obliges governments to provide all prisoners with adequate opportunities, time and facilities to communicate with their lawyers without delay, interception or censorship.
Lawyers also argue that Turkey’s conduct on İmralı violates Code 5275 of the Turkish Execution Law, which says the state must ensure that prisoners can exercise their rights regardless of their identity and the nature of their crimes.
Raziye Öztürk, a lawyer at the Asrın Law Office which represents Öcalan, explained that the İmralı system carries the risk of all kinds of violations and has already openly violated the prohibition of torture. She called this “an unprecedented system in the world.”
Öztürk added that the law office had made 215 lawyer applications but had received no response, leaving Öcalan incommunicado for 18 months.
Moreover, the lawyers had not been allowed to examine the disciplinary case files against their clients, Öztürk said. Nor had they been informed of prison disciplinary punishment decisions, cited as the reason for the ban on visitations, until after the deadline for appealing the decisions in question had expired.
“We are very concerned about the isolation,” said Berenice Boehlo, Co-Chair of the European Democratic Lawyers (EDL).
Explaining that international efforts to end the isolation were essential, Boehlo called for the CPT to visit İmralı Island once again and observe the conditions at the prison.
Abdullah Öcalan’s legal representatives at the Asrın Law Office also appealed to the Council of Europe’s anti-torture body for an urgent visit to the İmralı Island Prison in August.
On its 2019 visit to the İmralı Prison, CPT defined the communication bans as a type of incommunicado imprisonment and reported that such a state of affairs was unacceptable and contravened international human rights instruments and standards.
Diyarbakır (Amed) Bar Association president Nahit Eren announced that the association had applied to both the Ministry of Justice and the Council of Europe upon the written application of the Asrın Law Office to the Diyarbakır bar association.
Fabio Marcelli, a member of the Research and Development Centre for Democracy and the International Legal Intervention Group, said Turkey’s current problems stemmed from the government’s failure to solve the country’s Kurdish issue, in which Öcalan plays a significant role.
“Öcalan’s presence is extremely important in terms of ensuring peace not only in Turkey but also in the entire region,” Marcelli said.
Lawyer Mustafa Shekh Muslem from Kobane argued that the arrest of Abdullah Öcalan in 1999 was also a violation of international law.
“It was a human abduction operation,” Muslem said. “The abduction was a conspiracy and the result of a collaborative effort by the intelligence agencies of multiple countries.”
Turkish intelligence agents captured Öcalan in a CIA-assisted operation in Nairobi in February 1999, while he was on his way to the Greek embassy.
Öcalan’s PKK launched an armed uprising in Turkey in 1984 to seek Kurdish self-rule after decades of repression in the country. Turkey defines the PKK as a terrorist organisation, but many Kurds see Öcalan as the foremost leader of the Kurdish political struggle.