As Turkey’s arbitrary communications ban against jailed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) founder Abdullah Öcalan continues, hundreds of lawyers, judges and legal representatives from 22 countries have signed a petition to the Turkish Justice Ministry demanding the right to visit him.
At a press meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, representatives from four legal associations unveiled the petition demanding access to Öcalan and three other Kurdish prisoners held in a Turkish prison on İmralı Island.
Signed by 350 legal professionals from 22 countries across five continents, the petition notes that the Turkish authorities have imposed a “special and discriminatory form of isolation” on the four prisoners, effectively barring contact with their lawyers over a continuous eight-year period.
“Abdullah Öcalan, Ömer Hayri Konar, Hamili Yıldırım and Veysi Aktaş, who are detained in the İmralı F-Type High Security Prison, are unlawfully prevented from seeing their lawyers,” the petition says.
It says that while Öcalan was last able to see his lawyer in August 2019, the other prisoners have been prevented from speaking to their lawyers since they were transferred to the prison island in 2015.
“A special and discriminatory form of isolation has been applied in İmralı Prison since February 15, 1999,” the petition says, referring to the date Öcalan began his imprisonment.
The petition goes on to cite the eight-year period between July 2011 and May 2019 during which the authorities denied all applications to visit Öcalan made by his legal representatives at the Asrin Law Office.
After a brief interlude in 2019, during which five lawyer visits to Öcalan were permitted, the communications ban was reinstated, and has been in effect since August of that year.
Over the ensuing months, Öcalan’s lawyers have sent dozens of requests for lawyer and family visits to the Kurdish leader and seen all of them denied.
In August, they lodged an appeal with the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, calling the communication ban a political decision, and stating that it “systematically [violated] the fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights in multiple ways.”
In August, the Council of Europe asked Turkey to submit a defence to five applications lodged by the Diyarbakır Bar Association regarding Öcalan and the other detainees, including one challenging his “aggravated” life sentence.
The lawyers said Turkey’s position that Öcalan should remain behind bars without any chance of release breached his “right to hope”, a term that arose during a European Court of Human Rights trial and which refers to the right of any prisoner to hope for redemption and release, no matter how remote this hope may be.
Öcalan led the PKK during an armed struggle for Kurdish self-rule between 1984 and his capture in 1999. The Turkish government regards Öcalan and the PKK as terrorists, but many around the world view them as leading figures in the Kurdish political movement.
Signatories of Wednesday’s petition include Hasan Tarique Chowdhury, a lawyer from the Bangladesh Supreme Court; Brazilian lawyer Luis Carlos Moro, the General Secretary of the American Association of Jurists; and, from Britain, European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights president Bill Bowring.
“Pursuant to Article 25 of the Regulation on Visits of Convicted and Detained Persons, foreign lawyers – even without a power of attorney – have the right to see a convicted person in Turkey, provided that they comply with international conventions to which the Republic of Turkey is a party and the principle of reciprocity,” the petition states.
“The enduring efforts of our colleagues in Turkey against the isolation and violation of the right to defense is essentially a struggle for the implementation of the rights protected in international conventions to which Turkey is a party,” it says, before demanding the right to visit Öcalan and the other prisoners.