Abdullah Öcalan’s lawyers have been applying to the Turkish legal authorities for a lawyer-client visit to Imralı to see him, yet all their efforts remain unaddressed. Under such circumstances, one of Öcalan’s lawyers, Raziye Öztürk, shared her views on the imposition of isolation conditions on Abdullah Öcalan.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan has been imprisoned in a high security prison built especially for him on İmralı Island since 1999. Deprived of his basic human rights, the PKK leader has been kept under heavy isolation.
Following speculation regarding his health condition (and even death), Öcalan on 25 March was allowed to speak to his brother Mehmet Öcalan over a phone call. The call, which lasted for around five minutes, was cut off before clear information about Öcalan’s health condition could be ascertained.
This was the first ‘outside’ contact with Öcalan since 27 April 2020, when the PKK leader was allowed to speak with his brother again over a phone call. In the most recent phone call, Öcalan expressed his protest and concerns over the phone call, defining the context in which it was undertaken as “illegal and dangerous”.
As the phone call was cut off abruptly, it is still not clear whether it was interrupted by the state or Öcalan hung up the phone in protest. However, Öcalan had expressed a clear demand for an urgent meeting with his lawyers over the phone.
Öcalan’s lawyers continue to apply to the Turkish legal authorities for a lawyer-client visit, yet all their efforts have remained inconclusive.
Raziye Öztürk, one of Abdullah Öcalan’s lawyers from Asrın Law Bureau, talked to Mesopotamia Agency about the situation.
First of all, do the claims regarding your client’s health have anything to do with isolation?
The claims on various social media accounts regarding Mr. Öcalan’s health and security are deeply related to the isolation imposed against him for 22 years. As you know, we have not been able to contact him since 27 April 2020 and all of our applications have been left unanswered. When it comes to the health and life of Mr. Öcalan, such a claim under pandemic and isolation conditions is not something that we can underestimate.
Your client was able to use his right to talk by phone for the second time after 22 years. How was this phone call allowed?
This short phone call was held due to public outrage (over his situation that has been expressed).
Did you demand this phone call?
Our primary demand has been for a face-to-face lawyer-client meeting with Mr. Öcalan. Also, we had placed requests for the use of other means of communication along with the right to phone him. However, these requests have been unlawfully rejected.
Under what conditions are phone calls made?
Due to the public outcry, a family member of our client was told to go to the Prosecutor’s Office of the city they live in, and it was reported that a phone call would be held on 25 March. In this way, Mr. Hamili Yıldırım had a short phone call with Mr. Öcalan. The phone call that took place on 27 April 2020 was also made under these conditions.
While prisoners in other prisons can directly call their families, that phone call that took place under such extraordinary conditions once again revealed Imralı’s unique, private law. It is not possible to find a similar approach towards a prisoner anywhere in the world. We do not accept this unlawfulness.
What is the nature of the status of your applications to meet with your client?
We are not only prevented from meeting with our client, but also from using national and international legal mechanisms to do so. They are trying to completely exclude us from legal processes.
For example, although we could not get information about the contents of the file until six months ago, we were demanding to get files and we were carrying them to the Constitutional Court after our demands were rejected.
However, now, even if there is a disciplinary penalty for our client, we are not informed about that and our applications are rejected.
We are informed of the disciplinary penalty after the files are finalised and the legal processes for the application have been ended. The files are not given to us for “abstract security reasons”. This is against all international conventions that Turkey is a signatory of.
If the situation is as you have described, what is intended by allowing your client a phone call?
They want our client, who is completely deprived of his fundamental rights, to accept the phone call as “grace” and not ask for any more. As evidenced by the last phone call, it is clear that our client does not accept that. We, as lawyers, do not accept that either.
What do you think about the interruption of the phone call?
As you know, Mr. Öcalan received an aggravated life sentence. He is subject to Article 25 of the Execution Law. Regarding this law, the ECHR said: “It is a violation of the ‘prohibition of torture and ill-treatment’ and it stated that it should be changed. Again, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) continues to ask Turkey to change the conditions at Imrali after each visit.
However, Turkey does not even recognise the rights declared in this law: sometimes, it prevents the use of these rights on unlawful grounds. Undoubtedly, the main issue here is to prevent Mr. Öcalan’s thoughts, ideas, evaluations, predictions: they don’t want even his voice to be heard. That is why the phone call was interrupted and lasted for only about five minutes.
Mr. Öcalan’s ideas are important for the establishment of peace in both Turkey and the Middle East: the people who do not want peace and democracy are the ones that do not want his voice to be heard outside (his prison walls).
Öcalan said: “The state is playing it incorrectly and so are you. This is not legal, this is not right”, during the phone call. What do you think he wanted to express by using these words?
We should look into the circumstances under which this phone call was made. There has been an ongoing hunger strike launched against the isolation conditions that have been imposed on our client since 27 November 2020. The claims regarding his health were put forward under such an atmosphere. They wanted to measure the level of public reaction to it.
This phone call was held after the serious reactions by the democratic public. In the brief phone call made by Mr. Öcalan and Mr. Hamili Yıldırım, it was stated that Mr. Konar and Mr. Aktaş did not accept to make the phone call to protest the isolation. By those sentences, Mr. Öcalan simply reacted to this unlawfulness.
In the letter he sent to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2001, Mr. Öcalan stated that such an approach and such isolation hat was being imposed upon him was unacceptable for him and also for the Kurdish people he represented. He stated in that letter that he would not accept ‘small graces’ within the narrow limits of individual rights”.
These sentences expressed by Mr. Öcalan in 2001 are also enlightening and help us to understand today’s messages after 20 years. A phone call offered as “grace” cannot be accepted when Turkey continues to impose isolation for 22 years.
It is risky to think that isolation ‘ends’ when he is allowed to make a short phone call. The isolation continues. Our client’s rights should be respected: he should be allowed to meet with his family and lawyers.
Did you make any new applications after this phone call?
We take every news about Mr. Öcalan seriously. Therefore, we made applications to the Bursa Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Ministry of Justice, and the CPT after the news. We made requests to meet directly with the authorities. After the public reactions, a short telephone conversation took place and in this meeting, Mr. Öcalan stated that the right thing is for the lawyers to visit Imralı.
We continue to make applications in this respect. Since the phone call took place, each day we have been making requests: we were doing it twice a week previously. We have had a total of 26 applications since the claims were made on social media. Whilst the Prosecutor’s Office has not responded to our applications, the Enforcement Judge has refused our requests. After that, we have taken it to the Heavy Criminal Court.
The latest 6-month ban on lawyer visits ended on 23 March. Have you made any attempts in regard to this matter: have you been able to get any response?
No response is given to our applications. We do not know whether there is a new ban or not. Their excuse for not allowing our visits to Imralı Island is based on ‘weather conditions now’, the authorities say. This proves that what they are doing is against the law. We continue to apply for a lawyer’s meeting every day and, as we mentioned, we applied to the Execution Judge and it was rejected.
No answer is given to the Öcalan’s family’s weekly applications and no information is given regarding the disciplinary penalties that have been applied against him. We learned that there is a disciplinary penalty regarding the ban on family visits after the application we made to the Enforcement Judge on 30 March. At the time, we learned that the whole process regarding the disciplinary penalty had been finalised. As we mentioned before, it is obvious that they are trying to exclude us from using legal approaches. The rapid conclusion of our application to the Constitutional Court shows that the Constitutional Court is also trying to prevent us from using legal approaches.
Are you informed upon what grounds ‘disciplinary penalties’ have been given to your client?
Our applications for family visits to the Enforcement Judge in October were rejected. Although we brought the apparent unlawfulness of this decision to the Constitutional Court, the Constitutional Court rejected the applications of Mr. Yıldırım and Aktaş in a very short period and it did not consider such a ban on family visits as a violation.
Again, we issued an application to the Constitutional Court in January 2021 regarding the removal of the disciplinary penalties that were given in September 2020. We were prevented from conducting our profession as lawyers: the “right to defense” and “right to a fair trial” were violated and our application was rejected.