Several law and human rights organisations in Turkey have urgently appealed to the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) to address severe human rights violations at İmralı Prison, including the prolonged denial of legal representation to inmates, notably Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan.
Highlighting Turkey’s breach of international commitments, the groups have expressed alarm over the denial of legal representation and communication with the outside world for inmates Abdullah Öcalan, Ömer Hayri Konar, Hamili Yıldırım and Veysi Aktaş. This situation has been particularly dire since their transfer to İmralı Island in 2015. For Abdullah Öcalan, the ban on lawyer visits was in effect continuously from 27 July 2011 until 2 May 2019, and after a brief pause in 2019, the uninterrupted ban resumed post-7 August 2019.
Sabiha Aslan, sister of inmate Veysi Aktaş, conveyed the profound distress faced by families due to the unrelenting isolation and lack of communication at İmralı Prison. The isolation has reached a point where families, including Aslan’s, fear forgetting the faces and voices of their imprisoned loved ones. She criticised the disciplinary penalties used to justify the denial of visits as mere pretexts, questioning the feasibility of such misconduct by inmates in a highly controlled environment.
The severity of isolation and solitary confinement practices at İmralı Prison, causing serious harm to the prisoners’ physical, mental and social integrity, is reflected in the CPT’s report following their visit on 6-7 May 2019. Despite these findings, new disciplinary punishments and banning orders have been imposed on the prisoners, further restricting their access to legal representation.
Concerns about the prisoners’ well-being, particularly Abdullah Öcalan’s health, intensified following social media speculation in March 2021. A brief telephone contact was permitted on 25 March 2021, but Öcalan’s call with his brother was abruptly terminated after 3-4 minutes, with no similar contact facilitated for the families of other prisoners.
In response to these ongoing violations, 768 lawyers in Turkey made a public declaration on 26 May 2021 criticising the severe degree of isolation. Moreover, 775 lawyers from 29 Turkish bar associations applied to the Bursa Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on 10 June 2022 for access to the prisoners, but received no response. Additionally, international lawyers, including 350 from 22 countries on 14 September 2022 and 756 from the Middle East on 19 September 2022, applied to the Justice Ministry requesting access to İmralı Prison, yet these requests were also met with silence.
Multiple legal bodies, including the Batman (Elih) Bar Association, Diyarbakır (Amed) Bar Association and the Turkey Human Rights Foundation, among others, have repeatedly called for action. These include requests for immediate access for lawyers, regular family visits, and the lifting of disciplinary measures that have been used to block such visits. Despite these calls, no substantive response or changes in policy have been observed.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee issued a directive in September 2022 for the immediate facilitation of lawyer visits without restrictions. However, Turkey has not complied with this directive, failing to fulfil the international body’s requirements.
With no substantial improvements since the last CPT report published on 5 August 2020, these organisations implore the CPT to urgently visit İmralı Prison and publicly share their findings and recommendations. The persistence of severe isolation and solitary confinement conditions and the lack of any news from İmralı Prison since the short phone call in March 2021 necessitate urgent international attention and intervention.