From one of Öcalan’s lawyers – an interview

Ibrahim Bilmez in Strasbourg

Ibrahim Bilmez, one of Öcalan’s lawyers, has also been in Strasbourg this week. Below is an interview with him, edited for ease of reading.

This is not the first time we are here. We have been coming for years. As Abdullah Öcalan’s lawyers we have been trying to do what we can in the justice system here. The European Court of Human Rights is the highest justice institution in Europe, and, as Öcalan’s lawyers we have open cases in the court and other cases from the past. Some past decisions were positive and others negative. We are working on getting the positive decisions put into practice, because Turkey doesn’t even implement the decisions taken by the court. Just as the Kurdish people have been coming for years to hold a vigil in front of the Council of Europe and European Court of Human Rights, so we have also been coming for years to try and see that their decisions are implemented.

[With respect to the 2014 Court ruling that found that Ocalan’s imprisonment without the possibility of parole denied him the fundamental ‘right of hope’, which was finally looked at by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers last year], Turkey was given until the end of September to respond. However, there was nothing discussed at the September meeting of the Committee of Ministers. We are waiting to see if it is on the agenda for the next meeting, and NGOs in Turkey are working on a submission to the committee to try and push this forward.

On one side, Turkey is trying to delay everything – not implementing what is demanded and playing for time. And on the other side, the Council of Europe is assisting Turkey to do this. They do not uphold the fundamental principles and values for which they were established, but are effectively helping Turkey to evade them. Vigils outside the Council and in other places can put more pressure on the Council and on Europe’s justice system. Rights cannot be gained without a struggle. This is an unfortunate reality.

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) [which visited İmrali prison in September], has been visiting İmralı for nearly 24 years. Through these years we have always informed them of the situation, and they have seen it for themselves, and their reports list some of the injustices. Through the years, we meet with them, and they say: ‘Yes, we have visited. We can’t say anything about the visit. We will prepare a report and give it to the interested state, and if and when they agree, we will make it public. Before then, no information will be available.’ We hope that this time it doesn’t take a year, or even six months. It is nineteen months since we had we had any information from our client.

In the CPT’s reports there are criticisms and things that need to be changed – such as allowing visits from family and lawyers. But who is going to demand that these happen? Nothing has happened for all that time.

The aim of the international conspiracy [that led to Öcalan’s abduction] was to destroy him. It was not just against Öcalan, but against the Kurdish people and the Kurdish freedom struggle. However, they didn’t get their expected result. Öcalan is isolated in İmralı, but his thoughts and ideas have grown – not only in Kurdistan, in the whole world. We have seen what happened in Rojava, the resistance against Daesh, and now in Iran, where especially women and Kurds are on the streets shouting his slogan: Jin Jiyan Azadi. Understanding of Öcalan, both in the region and internationally has grown with time.

[Looking at the Council of Europe], on one side you have the Turkish dictatorship, which has developed over the years, and on the other, the so-called democratic European countries. In the middle of these nation states there is Öcalan, with his resistance and struggle, in a small island prison, together with the Kurdish people and internationalists who, are developing the resistance and carrying forward the struggle for freedom, democracy and justice. We don’t expect much from states. We come here to increase understanding and to try and get the court decisions put into practice. But the real struggle for freedom, democracy and peace comes from the people. 

[On the importance of removing the PKK from terrorism lists] – this is very important because it opens the way to a democratic and peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue. Delisting is important to put an end to the denial and annihilation policies that have been applied to the Kurdish people by Turkey and also by the international powers. It will open the possibility of a real solution that meets the rights of the Kurdish people. If you insist that the PKK is a terrorist organisation, Turkey cannot be made to solve the issue with terrorists. The states who put the PKK on a terror list, don’t want to solve the Kurdish issue that they created 100 years ago. We ask, what is their approach to solve the Kurdish issue? What rights do Kurds have?

Kurdish people have been carrying out the struggle for forty years, together with their friends all over the world, and each of those friends has added their own imput. We believe in international solidarity, and that growing solidarity will be more important in solving not only the Kurdish issue, but universal problems to which it is linked. That is why we are calling on everybody to understand that freedom for Öcalan is freedom for the Kurdish people, and freedom for the Kurds is your freedom, too. With this knowledge we can strengthen international solidarity.