Political prisoners have once again become the center of attention in Turkey as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has recently introduced a new widely-debated regulation referred to as a ‘special amnesty.’ This regulation, put in place on 12 July, will lead to the release of thousands of individuals who are currently detained in Turkey. The reason for the controversy surrounding this regulation is the exclusion of political prisoners from the amnesty. https://medyanews.net/turkeys-special-amnesty-regulation-sparks-outcry-for-excluding-political-prisoners/
One of the groups to condemn what they argue is discrimination against political prisoners, is the Lawyers Association for Freedom (ÖHD). Esra Bilen, Lawyer and ÖHD Istanbul branch co-chair claimed that the message this new regulation sends is that “You can commit heinous acts like murder, sexual assault, drug trafficking or any other crime, as long as you don’t challenge or act against the state’s authority; We’ll pardon everything but that.” She also went on to highlight that the AKP’s approach to political prisoners seems ‘primitive’ and ‘vengeful.’
This is far from the first time Turkey has come under fire for its approach towards political prisoners. Turkey’s history since the 1980s has been marred by a pattern of human rights abuses concerning the treatment of political prisoners. The country has witnessed a series of military coups, authoritarian regimes, and periods of intense political repression, leading to the maltreatment of countless individuals detained for their political beliefs, most notably Kurds.
To understand the repressive nature of Turkish politics it is important to look back to 1980 when Turkey experienced a coup d’état which led to the establishment of a military junta that ruled with an iron fist for three years. The coup marked the beginning of a dark era in the country’s history, characterized by widespread human rights violations and the suppression of political dissent. During this period, political activists, intellectuals, and members of the Kurdish minority became primary targets of state-sponsored persecution.
The maltreatment of political prisoners in Turkey has often involved torture and ill-treatment during interrogations and detentions. Reports from human rights organizations have exposed a troubling pattern of physical and psychological abuse inflicted on detainees. Methods such as beatings, electric shocks, sexual assault, and solitary confinement have been employed as means to extract confessions and suppress opposition.
Political prisoners in Turkey have frequently been subjected to prolonged periods of pre-trial detention without due process. Many detainees spend years awaiting trial, a violation of their basic human rights and the principle of “innocent until proven guilty”. This practice has had a disproportionate impact on the Kurdish community, where political activism has been met with harsh state repression.
Clearly the most prominent example is that of Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Since he was arrested in 1999 and sentenced to life imprisonment, Öcalan has endured periods of complete isolation on İmralı Island, restricting his contact with the outside world and raising intense concerns about his well-being.
Besides the case of Abdullah Öcalan, there have been several other notable examples of maltreatment of Kurdish prisoners in Turkey. For example, Leyla Zana, a Kurdish politician and human rights activist, was elected to the Turkish parliament in 1991. However, her advocacy for Kurdish rights, pride in her own identity and her refusal to speak Turkish during her parliamentary oath led to her arrest in 1994. Zana was sentenced to 15 years in prison on unsubstantiated charges of supporting terrorism. During her time in prison, she endured harsh conditions and was also subjected to solitary confinement.
Ahmet Türk is another well-known Kurdish politician and a former mayor of Mardin, one of the largest cities in the predominantly Kurdish region of Turkey. In 2004, Türk was arrested on charges of being a member of the PKK, an accusation he vehemently denied. He was convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison. Türk’s arrest and trial were seen by many as politically motivated, aimed at silencing his advocacy for Kurdish rights and self-determination.
Another very famous example is Leyla Güven, a member of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and a Member of Parliament. Güven has been an outspoken advocate for Kurdish rights. In 2018, she was arrested for her involvement in protests against Operation Olive Branch when Turkey invaded Afrin in North and East Syria. Güven’s hunger strike while in prison drew international attention and highlighted the plight of Kurdish political prisoners in Turkey.
Hunger strikes have been a common form of protest among Kurdish political prisoners in Turkey. These protests are often launched to draw attention to the prisoners’ demands for improved conditions, an end to isolation, and respect for their cultural and political rights. The hunger strikes have sometimes resulted in severe health consequences for the detainees.
The Turkish government’s treatment of political prisoners, particularly Kurdish political prisoners, has faced extensive international criticism. Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have documented numerous instances of abuse and have called for urgent reforms. Despite the attention and outrage the violations have received, Turkey continues these inhumane and often illegal practices.
The newly introduced amnesty which excludes political prisoners can and should be viewed for what it is – an intentional slap in the face to the thousands of political prisoners in Turkey and a message of intimidation to Kurds who might dare to politically advocate for themselves.