Öcalan’s isolation – a law unto itself

Yesterday one of Abdullah Öcalan’s lawyers was in Strasbourg and I took the opportunity to ask him what was new since we last spoke. The answer was – very little. The lawyers have talked with the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), whose delegation visited İmralı prison in September, but the CPT will neither confirm nor deny the rumour that they never met with Öcalan. They won’t even give any information about his health and wellbeing.

But Ibrahim Bilmez was able to explain to me the legal games that are being used to deny Öcalan any contact with the outside world – or rather describe to me, because they lack any rational explanation.

Contrary to all human rights law, Öcalan is denied all visits and contact. He is denied visits from his family and visits from his lawyers, but the illegal legal rules employed are different in each case.

The excuse given for denying family visits is that he has been given disciplinary penalties. Each one lasts three months, and as soon as it is over, he is given another. These are given by the prison, and Öcalan’s lawyers are never informed.

Visits from Öcalan’s lawyers are banned by the court in Bursa, the court for the region where the prison is based. The ban is renewed every six months, and no reason is given. Öcalan’s lawyers have only once seen a case made by the court to justify their decision, and that was four or five years ago. Then, the Bursa court claimed that their ban was based on a cell confinement penalty given to Öcalan by prison staff many years earlier. And the reasons given for that penalty were that Öcalan had described education in the Kurdish mother tongue as a human right, and that he had produced a road map for peace, though this had been written with the knowledge – indeed the encouragement – of the state.

The Bursa court is does not even follow Turkey’s own laws. According to a Turkish law brought in a few years back, lawyers can only be banned from seeing their imprisoned clients if the prison staff report that criminal activity has occurred during their meetings, and this has been confirmed by a court. None of this has happened; and in any case, it would not stop a prisoner from seeing a different lawyer.

All these practices of isolation have been brought to the European Court of Human Rights in a case that began in 2011. The court is still to make a ruling. The lawyers are hopeful that a decision will be made soon, but they also know that although the Court’s rulings are binding, Turkey ignores them.

As Bilmez described the situation, he recalled Öcalan’s own observation that the international conspiracy that captured him nearly 24 years ago has put him into a living coffin.