Turkey’s intellectuals, legal experts and human rights activists display a visible indifference to Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and conditions in İmralı prison, said Öcalan’s lawyer on Friday.
Cengiz Yürekli, a lawyer from the Asrın Law Firm representing Öcalan and the three other inmates in İmralı island prison, recalled during an interview with Mezopotamya News Agency that the last contact with their client took place on 25 March 2021.
“In fact, limiting this situation into a two-year timeframe is also misleading,” Yürekli said, adding that this contact was a brief telephone call that took place under extraordinary circumstances.
The Turkish authorities told families that the three fellow inmates of Öcalan declined to attend telephone calls in protest of the isolation they suffer in prison, Yürekli said.
“However, the telephone conversation with Mr. Öcalan was very short. It ended abruptly. We do not know why it was cut or why a new telephone contact was not made,” the lawyer said.
According to Yürekli, the lawyers took 25 March 2021 as the date of latest contact with Öcalan only for practical reasons.
“Unfortunately, we took this date as the basis in order to reflect the gravity of the situation. But, the latest contact before that was a year before,” Yürekli said, adding that previous contacts with Öcalan always happened with at least one-year lags.
“That means there are torturous conditions that has been continuing for 24 years,” Yürekli said about the PKK leader who was captured in Kenya and brought to Turkey in 1999.
The lawyer stressed that whenever they use the word “isolation”, people should be aware of what it actually means.
“When we say isolation in İmralı, we are facing a reality that is defined as torture by various bodies and institutions, a reality which cannot be defined in any other way,” Yürekli said.
“Just think about it, you remain in a dark cell alone for 23 hours every day without any human contact,” he stressed, adding that a government who could impose such conditions would believe it has the power to do almost anything.
Yürekli said that the isolation in İmralı prison is happening despite the rules and laws set by the European system, adding that such conditions could not exist even if institutions like the European Court of Human Rights or to the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) somehow gave their consent.
Observing that applications to European institutions made no change in Öcalan’s prison conditions, in an effort to mobilise other international mechanisms, the Asrin Law Firm applied to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, with a request for measures to put an end to the absolute incommunicado detention in İmralı.
The Committee accepted the request, and in September 2022, it ordered the Turkish government to “put an end to the incommunicado detention of the applicants and provide them with immediate and unrestricted access to a lawyer of their choice.” However, the Turkish government ignored the order and maintained the obstacles on lawyer and family visits to İmralı prison. The Committee repeated its call to the Turkish government on 19 January.
“In fact, legally, in terms of its legal meaning, in terms of its importance, this is a very critical decision. But although we shared this decision with the public, we have not witnessed the expected reaction from opposition circles or from groups sensitive to human rights,” Yürekli said.
“The indifference to this decision gives us the clues on how the system in İmralı has been continuing for 24 years,” he said, adding that intellectuals in Turkey have paid lip service to the UN body’s decision.
Yürekli recalled that the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) recently organised a conference to observe the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic.
“There was a huge attendance to the conference, especially from the left-liberal groups, groups which identify themselves as such, which enjoys the intellectual hegemony in Turkey,” Yürekli said.
While many issues in Turkey, from democracy to political participation, from local governments to political activism at grassroots level were brought forward during the event, Öcalan’s name and opinions were totally left out of the discussions, Yürekli argued, adding that the PKK leader enormously contributed to the intellectual development of those ideas in the country.
Yürekli added that the public should be aware of this practice of making Öcalan invisible.
“Not only the pro-government media or the mainstream media do it, but also those who define themselves as opposition, as democrat and as those with an open mind also contribute to this situation of invisibility,” he added.