Every year since the abduction and imprisonment of Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan 23 years ago, an international peace delegation has collected evidence on the treatment of political prisoners in Turkey.
This year’s Imrali delegation — as it is popularly named — reported that the cruel isolation regime imposed on Öcalan in the prison on Imrali Island is now being introduced throughout the prison system in Turkey.
“Isolation F-type prisons are being built, and within present prison walls isolation of political prisoners is becoming common practice as well as the imposition of severe disciplinary sanctions,” the delegation said in a February 16 statement.
“Under these conditions political prisoners are being mistreated and tortured, elderly people and individuals with serious illnesses are denied medical treatment.”
The delegation also reported that:
• Rape and sexual abuse committed by village guards and military or prison personnel is common practice in a system that guarantees impunity to perpetrators; and
• Freedom of speech is non-existent in Turkey and thousands of people are constantly persecuted, arrested, kept in pre-trial confinement for long periods and given heavy prison sentences on a political whim. Those who do not agree that they regret their “wrong-doings”, or show “good manners” face aggravated punishment.
Delegation member Laura Quagliuolo, an Italian editor, writer and veteran women’s rights campaigner, told Green Left that typically “there are like 30 political prisoners in a cell that was built to contain 14".
"There are a lot of suicides, and when this happens the guards tell the other prisoners that they will be the next," said Quagliuolo.
"When and if a prisoner obtains a visit, it is not private, always a guard is there to listen to what they say.”
This year’s Imrali delegation was the biggest yet and its other members were: Andrea Kocsondi, from the British General Federation of Trade Unions Executive; Barbara Spinelli, co-president of the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy & World Human Rights; Christine Blower, former general secretary of the National Union of Teachers in Britain; Clare Baker, international officer for the British union, Unite; Claire Jones, general secretary of the British Society of Union Employees; Dimitri Roussopoulos, publisher, editor, ecologist and community organiser; Doug Nicholls, leader of the British General Federation of Trade Unions; Federico Venturini, research associate at Italy's University of Udine; Kariane Westrheim, Professor of Educational Science at Norway's University of Bergen; Mahmoud Patel, South African academic, legal scholar and human rights activist; British barrister Margaret Owen OBE; Melanie Gingell, British barrister and a lecturer on International Human Rights Law; Radha D’Souza, Professor of Law at Britain's University of Westminster; Şerife Ceren Uysal, co-Secretary General of the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy & World Human Rights; Shavanah Taj, general secretary of the Welsh Trade Union Congress; Thomas Jeffrey Miley, sociologist at the University of Cambridge; and Ögmundur Jónasson, former Icelandic justice minister.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s delegation carried out its fact-finding through online interviews with political representatives, human rights and women’s rights organisations, prisoners' associations and their families, and the lawyers representing Öcalan, with whom contact has been denied in breach of international law.
The delegation wrote to Turkey’s Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdag requesting a virtual meeting with Öcalan, but did not receive any acknowledgement of the request, let alone a reply.
Öcalan’s lawyers have confirmed there has been no communication with him since March 25 last year.
Turkish authorities have deepened Öcalan's isolation since the Council of Europe’s Commission Against Torture (CPT) declared in August 2020 that "solitary confinement” as practiced on Imrali Island is “not acceptable” and that steps to improve this situation should be taken “without further delay”.
The Turkish government responded with bans on further visits, whether with family or lawyers, and prohibition of telephone contact with the Kurdish leader.
The delegation called on the CPT to follow up on its declarations that Turkey respect international law, and for them to demand to meet directly with Öcalan and his lawyers. A CPT delegation visited Turkey last year, but did not visit Imrali or even provide any information about Öcalan’s state of health.
The delegation is deeply concerned by the failure of the Turkish authorities to comply with the recommendations of international human rights bodies, and even more so by the silence of international bodies.
The delegation appealed to all institutions responsible for international conventions on human rights and the rule of law to demand that the isolation of Öcalan be ended without delay.
“After all these years, despite the torture that he endures, Öcalan’s message remains one of conciliation, as he continuously insists on peace and democracy," said the delegation's statement.
"His presence at a negotiating table is essential for peace in the region.”