The need for the campaign
Since Abdullah Öcalan’s 4-5 minute telephone call with his brother on 25 March, there has been silence from the prison island of İmralı. This has caused great concern within the Kurdish community, which is why, over the last weeks, we have held intensive talks with various Kurdish and European organisations, as well as with friends.
Abdullah Öcalan founded the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in 1978 in response to the Turkish state’s brutal persecution of the Kurdish people, and he led the movement from Syria for two nearly two decades. In 1998, despite a unilateral ceasefire declared by Öcalan, Turkey, backed by NATO, threatened Syria with war over Öcalan’s presence, forcing him to leave the country. On 9 October 1998, Öcalan headed to Europe to promote a political solution to the Kurdish question. On 15 February 1999, he was abducted in Kenya in a clandestine international operation and handed over to the Turkish state. In the ensuing 22 years, Öcalan has been held in the İmralı Island F Type Closed High Security Prison as a political prisoner of the Turkish State. In 2009 Ömer Hayri, Veysi Aktaş and Hamili Yıldırım were brought to Imrali. There he is isolated and, for most of that time, and especially recently, denied access to all means of communication. Abdullah Öcalan’s abduction was carried out by the intelligence services of NATO member states who wanted to deactivate him, so, even though he is being held in Turkey, he is an international prisoner, and all approaches to him are political.
Attitudes of the Council of Europe and the European Committee on the Prevention of Torture
Turkey is a member of the Council of Europe (CoE) and ratified the agreement of the council’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT). The CPT is responsible for monitoring conditions in the prisons of member states.
On 5 August 2020, the CPT published a report on the situation in the İmralı Island Prison, based on visits to Turkish prisons in May 2019. It concluded that the system and isolation on İmralı are unacceptable. The four prisoners on the island are in absolute solitary confinement except for nine hours a week, when they are permitted to meet as a group for six hours and in pairs for three hours. “As a result, all the prisoners were in solitary confinement most of the time.” That is, they were in isolation for 159 out of 168 hours a week. On weekends, the prisoners were isolated around the clock. The CPT stated, “In the opinion of the committee, such a situation is unacceptable.” The report continues, “A balance must be struck between… security considerations and the basic human rights of the prisoners concerned,” and it calls for a “sustainable system” of regular visits to İmralı by family members and lawyers. The CPT report goes on to observe that “the underlying concept of the detention regime of persons sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment is fundamentally flawed”, and it urges a “complete overhaul” of the detention regime for such prisoners.
In October 2020, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) passed a resolution on Turkey’s repression of opposition groups. It also mentioned the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan and states: “The Assembly is deeply concerned by credible allegations of torture in police and detention centres and expects the Turkish authorities to respond promptly to these allegations. While welcoming the publication, in August 2020, of two reports prepared in 2017 and 2019 by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), the Assembly reiterates its call on the Turkish authorities to authorise, without any further delay, the publication of the 2016 CPT report and to implement all remaining CPT recommendations, including those pertaining to the situation of Mr Abdullah Öcalan and other prisoners who remain cut off from contacts with the outside world at the İmralı F-Type High-Security Closed Prison, as already referred to in its Resolution 2260 (2019)”.
The silence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)
Although it is the highest court for human rights cases in Europe, the ECtHR does not perform its function. In the ten years since 27 July 2011, there have been only five meetings with lawyers held in İmralı Prison. During this time, serious operations have been carried out against the lawyers themselves, with some of them being detained and arrested. In 2011, Öcalan’s lawyers made an application to the ECtHR against his solitary confinement. Although ten years have passed since this application was made, and, in the meantime, many things have got worse, the ECtHR has not dealt with the Öcalan’s file. The ECtHR can be much quicker in taking up applications. Some are processed within seven years or less, but when it comes to Öcalan, the court has not dealt with the case that has been going on since 2011. The ECtHR is aware of the CPT and PACE recommendations. Nevertheless, it does not act.
According to the UN, solitary confinement is torture
The October 2011 report by UN Special Rapporteur, Juan Méndez, to the UN General Assembly, states that solitary confinement “can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment”. Even so, although the UN has been called upon several times to counter the brutality of İmralı, they have remained reactionless.
İmrali — a regime of arbitrariness
The CPT clearly stated that the conditions on İmralı are unacceptable, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has called on Turkey to comply with the CPT’s recommendations for change. However, nothing has altered, and no news has been received from İmralı. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe appears incapable of following up recommendations made by the CPT. The Committee of Ministers is failing to enforce the execution of ECtHR judgments, and the UN just watches as Turkey repeatedly tramples all over international agreements and conventions.
The İmralı Island Prison continues to have an extraordinary status. The isolation and torture system in place there is based on practices that are illegal both in Turkish law and under the international legal system. The Council of Europe has a responsibility to ensure that the decisions of the CPT are enforced. The İmralı system can continue to exist only thanks to the consent or complete disregard by international institutions.
The intensification of the isolation imposed on Öcalan began with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s decision to end peace negotiations between Öcalan and the PKK and the Turkish state in April 2015. The increased oppression that began with the isolation of Oclana has spread through the whole of the country and beyond. Erdoğan has continued his strategy of annihilation of the Kurds, and is pursuing the intimidation and elimination of democratic-progressive forces throughout Turkey. At the same time, the Turkish state is pursuing a campaign of military expansionism, invading and occupying parts of Syria and Iraq. They have carried out aggressive actions in the Eastern Mediterranean, and have fanned the flames of civil war in Libya and of the bloody conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. This ongoing military expansionism is a major destabilising force far beyond the Middle East.
By contrast, Öcalan’s political philosophy, which promotes the peaceful coexistence of peoples and the emancipation of women, has provided the framework for the Rojava Revolution led by the Kurds of Syria, who have established a system of grassroots democracy in Rojava and throughout much of North and East Syria. The creation of this revolutionary system in North and East Syria has inspired peoples throughout the region and beyond to believe that it is possible to build a new society founded on the principles of democracy, freedom and equality.
The time has come – Free Öcalan and all political prisoners
Öcalan and his freedom are indispensable for peace and democracy in Kurdistan and the Middle East. Those who openly or covertly support the Turkish war efforts, who shut Öcalan out, or deliberately ignore the atrocious conditions he is held in, are directly opposing peace. It is as simple as that. We call on everybody to join us in our struggle for freedom for Abdullah Öcalan, as his freedom would be the harbinger of peace in Kurdistan and the Middle East.
The goal of The Time for Freedom is Now: Freedom Shall Prevail — Act for Öcalan Campaign
In order to overcome the İmralı isolation system, the universal rights to which everyone is entitled must be recognized. There will be a protest action in Strasbourg in front of the Council of Europe from 2 October until the CPT, CoE, and ECtHR fulfil their obligation and abide by their responsibilities regarding Abdullah Öcalan and all political prisoners in Turkey.
- Abdullah Öcalan and the other İmralı prisoners must immediately be permitted to communicate with their lawyers and relatives, and the isolation measures must be lifted.
- The ECtHR, CoE and UN must sanction Turkey, because Turkey’s current detention regime is contrary to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules).
- Political approaches to Öcalan’s freedom must be taken by the Council of Europe (CoE) as a political body with a sanctioning order.
How you can support the campaign
- On 2 October, at 1:00 pm local time in Strasbourg, we will hold a press conference announcing the launch of the new campaign for the freedom of Öcalan, under the slogan “The Time for Freedom is Now – Freedom Shall Prevail-Act For Ocalan”. That day, we will set up a tent camp near the offices of the CoE and CPT, and we will remain there until action is taken. With 1,000 people, we will carry out political, diplomatic, cultural and social actions in order to remind the CPT and CoE of their obligations and demand action. We would welcome the participation of your organization.
- To strengthen our action, 1-2 minute video messages from representatives of your organization and yours on Ocalan’s rights and the need for his release and the release of all political prisoners can be very important.
- To sign the open letter to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Ms Marija Pejčinović Burić
- Please carry the open letter to Secretary General of the Council of Europe to your local councils, assemblies, trade unions, community organizations, parties and persuade them to join the worldwide chorus of voices for Öcalan’s freedom.
Please send the requested messages and signatures to email@example.com or +49177 69 96 185 (whatsapp/signal/telegram)
Lınks of International campaigns for Öcalan’s freedom
- The Freedom for Öcalan campaign, the UK trade union-backed initiative to secure the release of imprisoned Kurdish political prisoner Abdullah Öcalan. https://www.freedomforocalan.org/
- Kurdish Human Rights Action Group (KHRAG) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).
- The, UK based, Peace in Kurdistan – Freedom for Öcalan Campaign.
- The Germany based International Initiative Freedom for Öcalan.
- The International İmralı Peace Delegation.
- Liberta Per Ocalan, Italy. https://www.freeapo.org/en/
- Freedom Initiative for Ocalan in Australia.
- The Arab Committee Freedom for Ocalan, Cairo/Egypt