Since 25 March 2021, there has been no news regarding Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who has been held in heavy isolation conditions at İmralı Island Prison in the western Turkish province of Bursa for 24 years.
Öcalan is prohibited from meeting with his lawyers or relatives, with various reasons used to justify this restriction. International experts have described Öcalan’s situation of being cut off from communication as an unprecedented form of isolation.
The conditions of Öcalan’s isolation at İmralı Island Prison have escalated to absolute isolation since 25 March 2021, cutting off all communication with the outside world. His lawyers and family members are unable to visit him, and the ban on visits is supported by baseless “disciplinary penalties.” Despite numerous attempts by Öcalan’s legal team to raise the issue with the Justice Ministry of Turkey and international organisations such as the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), their efforts have been unsuccessful so far.
In response to Öcalan’s isolation and in support of his release, various demonstrations are organised in Turkey and worldwide, and conferences are held to address the political and legal aspects of the issue.
The data provided by Asrın Law Office shows a step-by-step intensification of isolation conditions imposed on Öcalan over the years, particularly in terms of lawyer consultations and family visits, finally turning into a situation of total incommunicado.
- From 1999 to 2011, the number of lawyer consultations varied from year to year, with fluctuations in the allowed and denied consultations.
- After 2011, restrictions on lawyer consultations increased significantly.
- Out of 1,253 requested consultations during this period, a substantial number (719) were denied without any response, indicating a lack of transparency or communication regarding the decisions.
- Various reasons were cited for denial, including a broken ship, adverse weather conditions, ship repairs, official holidays, and ship malfunctions.
- From 1999 to 2014, family visits were allowed, with varying numbers of applications and visits each year.
- After 2014, the number of approved family visits drastically decreased, with only a few permits granted out of numerous applications.
- Court orders were often used as a justification for denying visit requests.
- Other reasons for denial again included a broken ship, adverse weather conditions, and ship malfunctions.
Several experts and activists expressed strong opinions about the severity and unprecedented nature of the isolation imposed on Öcalan, drawing comparisons to notorious maximum security prisons and authoritarian regimes. They argued that the level of isolation Öcalan faces goes beyond what is considered acceptable even in such contexts.
Renown prison expert Denis O’Hearn stated that the isolation system in İmralı Island Prison surpasses even SuperMax prisons in the United States, which are known for their stringent security measures.
Fazela Mohammed, a fellow fighter of the late Nelson Mandela, criticised Turkey’s implementation of harsh isolation practices, stating that it reflects a governance system worse than even the most brutal regimes in the world. Comparing the situation to Nelson Mandela’s incarceration during the apartheid regime, Mohammed points out that even Mandela had some access to meetings with lawyers and family, highlighting the heightened isolation experienced by Öcalan.
Laura Castel, a member of the International İmralı Peace Delegation who also serves as deputy chair of the Group of the European Left in the Council of Europe and representative of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, condemned the conditions in İmralı Island Prison, describing the lack of communication with lawyers and family members as a form of torture.
Meanwhile, Rengin Ergül, Secretary General of the Association of Free Lawyers (ÖHD), stated in an interview with Jin News that the prohibition on Öcalan’s meetings with his lawyers and family is contrary to Turkish law and international conventions. She emphasised that this prohibition has been de facto implemented during the AKP rule, and as a result, no structural measures have been taken to improve prison conditions. Furthermore, she highlighted that the visit by the CPT to İmralı focused on removal centres, neglecting to include İmralı in their report. Ergül expressed that the communication ban and ill-treatment in İmralı are unacceptable, calling for an end to isolation. She also urged the public to actively support the fight against isolation and to voice their concerns more prominently.