Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD) and the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TIHV) – alongside the lawyers’ associations Lawyers for Freedom (OHD) and the Society and Legal Research Foundation (TOHAV) – on 29 July applied to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe for a review of the “aggravated life imprisonment” sentence that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan and three other political prisoners, Hayati Kaytan, Emin Gurban and Civan Boltan were given.
The non-governmental organisations (NGOs) made reference to the relevance of a decision from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) regarding Öcalan, Kaytan, Gurban and Boltan that their sentencing of aggravated life imprisonment without the possibility of a “conditional release” is “contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)” and demanded that the Committee take up this issue as an item on their agenda to be discussed during their weekly and periodic meetings.
Öztürk Türkdoğan, a prominent human rights lawyer and co-chair of the IHD spoke to MA relating to the application made to the Committee of Ministers of the European Council on 29 July.
Türkdoğan recalled that the sentence of death passed on PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan had been lifted by an amendment to Turkey’s Constitution in 2004 following a cautionary decision issued by the (ECHR), and explained that since an amendment to the legislation at that time, a penalty of “aggreviated life imprisonment (the equivalent of a whole life term)” has been enacted in Turkey.
Türkdoğan defines this method of punishment as a “prolonged death sentence and a method of torture,” recalling that an application had been made to the ECHR against this form of punishment which had attracted a verdict of “torture and inhuman or degrading treatment,” as described in Article 3 of the ECHR.
Türkdoğan stressed that this also removed the “right to hope,” saying, “When a person is sentenced to imprisonment, they should know when they will be released.”
Türkdoğan stressed that the main agency holding the countries of the Council of Europe together is the ECHR, and that it is necessary to ensure the implementation of decisions made by the Court that are constituted in accordance with the Convention.
“If the political organs of the Council are unable to achieve this, it is an indication that the human rights values and the commitment to the Convention are being corroded. For this reason, it is particularly important that NGOs make applications, because if we leave it to the states, the states will prioritise their own economic and political interests, and no steps will be taken to eliminate severe human rights violations such as this. It is just at this point that it is necessary for NGOs in countries included in the Council to intervene in an effective manner.”
Türkdoğan stated that Öcalan’s isolation conditions are a key issue in discussions relating to a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish question in Turkey. “Turkey thinks it will solve the Kurdish question through conflict, annihilation, and imprisonment. And it is at this point that Abdullah Öcalan’s situation comes to the fore.”
“In the final analysis, there have been eight ceasefires [with the PKK] in Turkey. During each ceasefire, the political administration and the state in Turkey have entered into dialogue with Abdullah Öcalan. Each time, clashes have resumed with greater ferocity as these communications were inconclusive.”
He criticised the UN, Europe and other regional powers for sitting back and watching Turkey’s policies. “You cannot solve the Kurdish question as long as you keep Öcalan in these harsh conditions. Therefore, you cannot increase the severity of the conditions of sentence execution.”