Öcalan at the EU

When the European Union Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC) held their first conference in the European Parliament in 2004, it was not deemed safe to speak about Abdullah Öcalan. At their 17th conference, held last week, Öcalan’s situation and his importance for resolving the Kurdish Question were recurrent themes, and the first panel session was dedicated to discussing İmralı.

As Barbara Spinelli, co-chair of the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy & World Human Rights, noted in the introduction to that session, Öcalan’s situation is unique in Europe. He is serving an in-life death sentence, and if this is tolerated by the European institutions, they become complicit.

Raziye Öztürk, one of Öcalan’s lawyers, explained that the European institutions need first to abide by their own laws. That means not leaving Öcalan’s case pending for twelve years, and not allowing Turkey to fail to implement the recommendations of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT).

Another of Öcalan’s lawyers, Mahmoud Shakar, spoke about the importance of removing the PKK from terrorism listings – observing that the decision to classify the PKK as terrorists has been a political and not a legal one, and that the EU listing was made at a time when the PKK had declared a ceasefire and had called for a peaceful resolution.

Meral Beştaş, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Group Deputy Chair, described Öcalan’s situation as unprecedented, and absolutely unlawful. And Ilhan Ahmad, Co-Chair of the Executive Committee of the Syrian Democratic Council, stressed the vital importance of Öcalan’s involvement in solving the Kurdish Question.

The final conference resolution stated:

A historical and long overdue necessity is the opening of the gates of Imrali prison, which as a lawless space is the starting point for the most massive human rights violations in Turkey’s prisons. The European Union, the Council of Europe and in particular the CPT are called upon to exhaust all mechanisms to end the lawlessness on Imrali and to allow lawyers unrestricted access to the island. The EUTCC Conference calls for a return to dialogue between the Turkish state and the PKK and the release of Abdullah Öcalan as a precondition for a sustainable solution.

Öcalan has not been able to communicate with anyone outside İmralı prison for almost two years, but he was very much present in Brussels last week.