Turkey’s Justice Ministry submitted an opinion to the Constitutional Court regarding the blocking of family and lawyer visits to Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), stating that there was no “ill-treatment” in İmralı prison and that disruptions in the meetings were due to “compelling reasons”, Mezopotamya Agency (MA) reported on Thursday.
The ministry’s opinion was submitted in response to the court’s request based on dozens of applications by the Asrın Law Office over the last eight years.
In its response on 24 March to the Constitutional Court, according to documents obtained by MA, the ministry recalled previous rulings by criminal courts on the prevention of visits to İmralı prison, arguing that ill-treatment is “relative” and that the isolation in İmralı is “mild”. The Ministry claimed that the rights of Öcalan and the other detainees to family and lawyer visits, phone conversations, and receiving and sending letters are implemented according to the legislation.
The ministry provided no information on the “compelling reasons” that caused disruptions in visitations and stated that the execution of the sentence given to Öcalan and the other detainees “involves more difficulties compared to the sentences of other convicts in similar situations”, thus indirectly admitting to discrimination.
The ministry also claimed that the refusal to meet with the detainees was not “arbitrary” and defended the systematic bans on family and lawyer visits.
The denial of family and lawyer visits has been a contentious issue for some time, with dozens of applications being made to the Constitutional Court by Asrın Law Office. The ministry’s response is likely to be met with criticism from human rights organisations who have long campaigned against Öcalan’s isolation and Turkey’s treatment of Kurdish political prisoners.
Öcalan, who was brought to Turkey in February 1999, has been held under severe isolation for 24 years in the F Type High Security Prison on İmralı Island in the Mudanya district of Turkey’s western city Bursa.
The prison administration prevented visitors, including lawyers, from visiting Abdullah Öcalan and other prisoners on 7 May 2021. Lawyers were not informed of the decision, and thus, were not given the right to appeal. The prison administration made two more decisions on 18 August and 23 November 2021, preventing Öcalan from seeing visitors for a total of six months.
In addition, the Bursa Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office requested to cut Abdullah Öcalan’s communication with his lawyers on 12 October 2021. The Bursa 4th Execution Judgeship, which evaluated the request, ruled in favour of the prosecutor’s request on the same day, and decided to prevent Abdullah Öcalan from meeting with his lawyers for six months.
The lawyers then filed an individual application to the Constitutional Court on 24 December 2021, stating that their clients were subjected to ill-treatment due to aggravated isolation and obstructions.