The total communication ban on Abdullah Öcalan, jailed founder of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), is a failure of Turkey to comply with international treaties, said Maurice Krings, former chairman of the bar associations union in Brussels in an interview with Medya News.
Krings spoke following a press conference in which lawyers, judges and legal representatives from 22 countries unveiled a petition demanding access to Öcalan and three other notable PKK prisoners held in Turkey’s northwest İmralı Island Prison.
A total of 350 lawyers around the world came together to appeal to the Turkish Justice Ministry to be allowed to visit Öcalan, lawyer Selma Benkhelifa said.
“It is very important for lawyers to have access to their client. First of all to see if the [prison] conditions are okay,” lawyer Selma Benkhelifa said. “In the past, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said it was not OK, because of the isolation of the island of İmralı.”
Öcalan was captured in February 1999 in Kenya, in what Kurds call an ‘international conspiracy’, and he was brought to Turkey to face trial for treason. Öcalan was imprisoned on İmralı, a small uninhabited island in the Marmara Sea, and began serving an aggravated life sentence.
Öcalan was the only inmate in İmralı prison until 2009, when several other prominent figures in the PKK were also transferred there to dispel the international community’s accusations against Turkey of mistreatment and torture.
“Now we want to go and visit him. That is our demand. We don’t have to wait for the willingness of politicians. We need to move public opinion,” Benkhelifa said.
Helene Debaty, president of the Union of Lawyers for Democracy, said that Öcalan’s situation had moved beyond the legal realm and had become a “political case”.
“The message from [the press conference] was very clear,” Debaty said. “That international support and international focus will not stop.”
There is not enough pressure on Turkey from “big institutions”, she said, referring to the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) and other international bodies.
“We are here. Civil society is here. Institutions as well – as you can see, various bar associations are also here,” she said. “Many international bar associations are joining the cause.”
The lawyers’ campaign aims to raise awareness that Öcalan’s situation is “even worse than before”, Debaty said.
A main goal of the campaign is to “force the CPT and the European Council”, Mahmut Şakar added, who had defended Öcalan during his trial.
“Combined with societal pressure, our efforts in the legal and international spheres will, I believe, impact these groups and contribute to the end of this isolation,” Şakar said.
Debaty’s organisation also monitors the case against Turkey’s Contemporary Lawyers Association (ÇHD), in which several human rights lawyers face terrorism charges.
“The equity, the impartiality, of the proceedings in trials or in prison are completely violated by the state,” she said. “We follow this very closely because it’s our duty, our responsibility for lawyers to criticise, to shed light on the violation of fundamental rights.”
The strict isolation of the kind imposed on Öcalan and other İmralı inmates also violates the rights of lawyers, she added.
Even if they are in prison, inmates still have human rights, Debaty reiterated.