The known history of isolation goes back to the 16th century. According to some studies, isolation was first applied as “training and improvement” to a young man in Amsterdam in 1588. Later it was applied to “enemies” in Germany during the Nazi era. This type of torture continued to be practised subsequently, and is still practised against political prisoners in the United States, Spain, France, Turkey and many other countries.
Abdullah Öcalan, the founder and leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has been held on Turkey’s İmralı prison island since 1999 and has been kept in isolation for years, while serving an aggravated life sentence.
Öcalan’s lawyers have for years expressed their concerns regarding the well-being of their client, and have applied to the Turkish authorities many times demanding urgent face-to-face conversation with him. Recently they once again announced that they had not received any information from him or any prisoners in Imralı Prison, this time for eight months. The last time Öcalan was allowed to talk with his brother Mehmet on the phone was on 27 April 2020.
Human rights activists, politicians and lawyers spoke to MA regarding the isolation in Imralı prison.
Human Rights activist Ezgi Yusufoğlu defines isolation as follows:
“The literal meaning of isolation is the placing apart; detaching or separation of a person from others. However, imprisonment itself is already isolation, because it isolates the person from society.”
Lawyer Ercan Kanar adds to this;
“Isolation is not included in the Turkish Law of Execution of Sentences. There is no article regulating isolation. But with the Anti-terrorism Law, and Law No.4422 to fight Interest-Based Criminal organisations, one-, two- and three-person cells were brought in, and so the law was manipulated and isolation was introduced.”
Prominent lawyer and feminist Eren Keskin believes isolation is experienced in all areas of life in Turkey and is not limited to prisons, “In fact, individual isolation is applied to all other identities apart from the Turkish and Sunni Muslim identity. However, isolation is extensively practised in prisons. İmralı is the first place, when we talk about the practice of isolation,” adding that the conditions in İmralı Prison are against the law.
The Geneva Convention of 1949 described all mental torture practices as inhumane. It has been noted that although isolation leaves no physical marks, it is a method of sensory deprivation which invariably causes prisoners to experience psychological breakdowns in the context of lack of access to daylight, lack of exercise and deprivation of rights to visits and phone calls.
Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TIHV) board member Umit Efe says:
“The cruel isolation practices applied to prisoners can trigger numerous health problems and cause physical and mental illness. There are many examples in our country, there are hundreds of sick prisoners.”
Meanwhile Asrın Law Office Member Emran Emekçi says he believes that isolation is an attempt to prevent the democratisation of the peoples in the Middle East.
“Isolation was first introduced into the system because of Öcalan, and there is no one but Öcalan who can bring about a solution for the Middle East,” he states.
Every party that comes to power in Turkey intensifies the practices of isolation step by step. When Öcalan was first brought to Turkey in 1999, he was allowed to meet with his attorneys. However, during the era of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), these meetings were unlawfully banned. The AKP eased off on the degree of isolation in Imrali during the peace negotiations but then it intensified it again, and isolation continues to be one of Turkey’s most important problems.