A legal representative for Nelson Mandela, the legendary leader of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and former South African president, stated that the severe isolation imposed upon Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), was unacceptable in the confines of international law.
Siraj Desai, who also served as a judge in South Africa between 1995 and 2020, spoke on Saturday in the conference titled ‘Right to Peace Against Policy of Isolation’, held in Istanbul, Turkey, jointly by the Human Rights Associaton (İHD) of Turkey, the Lawyers’ Association for Freedom (ÖHD), and the Foundation for Society and Legal Studies (TOHAV).
The case of Abdullah Öcalan, who’s been denied contact with his lawyers for three years now, and visits by his family members for four years, was examined in the conference.
Noting that the African National Congress (ANC) that waged a struggle against apartheid for decades was designated a ‘terrorist group’ by various national and international parties, Desai said:
“ANC’s struggle was opposed by many, including US authorities. Our demands were for political rights, and for freedom and rights of the black people. There was a profound inequality in the society and we were fighting against it. There was also an armed struggle alongside the international campaign. The armed struggle helped significantly in achieving objectives.”
Desai told about the prison conditions of Nelson Mandela, who was sentenced to life imprisonment.
“A person who’s been sentenced to imprisonment for life should have a legal representative,” he said.
“During the time he was incarcerated, Mandela was able to have visits once every six months both from his lawyers and his family members. I personally was able to visit Robben Island.* We had access to our clients. No matter how awful the conditions were, we were able to go and visit them. I was enraged when I was informed that you haven’t been able to have any contact with Öcalan for a long time. This is not acceptable in international law. International law gives you the right to access both in the trial process, and in the process of serving the sentence. Receiving a prison sentence does not mean that your access to your lawyer and family may be prevented.”
Desai also stressed that life imprisonment did not mean indefinite incarceration in the legal practices of various countries. He said:
“Even under the apartheid regime Nelson Mandela was released after 20 years. We’re talking about very long periods of time. In many countries, people who have been imprisoned for life are incarcerated for about 20 years. If a convict has not been released after 20 years, this means that this person is still believed to be presenting a danger for the society. In the case of Öcalan, a political decision is required, and that decision should be reasonable and logical. The release should be contributing to peace and society’s welfare.”
* Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in Robben Island for 18 years.