Keskin: Isolation at Imrali affects the entire society

For more than four months now, the Turkish state has again been relying on the total isolation of Abdullah Öcalan. We public interview with prominent lawyer and Co-Chair of IHD Eren Keskin about the situation on Imrali. She says that the Imrali system affects the whole society.

Since August 12, the Turkish state has again been relying on the total isolation of Abdullah Öcalan. On that date, the PKK founder, who has been imprisoned for over 20 years on the prison island of Imrali in the Sea of Marmara, received a visit from his brother Mehmet Öcalan for the last time. The last consultation with his legal advisers took place on 7 August. Since then, any requests for visits have either been refused or not answered at all. The Kurdish people’s leader is once again cut off from the public.

In Amed (Diyarbakir), on the occasion of a meeting of the “United Kurdish Women’s Platform” (Platforma Yekitiya Jinên Kurd), we had the opportunity to talk with the prominent lawyer and human rights activist Eren Keskin about the situation on Imrali. Keskin, who is co-chair of the Human Rights Association IHD, was one of the twelve lawyers who represented Öcalan after his abduction from the Greek embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, to Turkey in 1999. She says that from day one, the Imrali island prison has been an illegal system without a legal basis that respects neither international conventions nor Turkish criminal law. Isolation has existed from the very beginning, although the dimensions have changed from time to time. “I can say quite clearly that the system applied on Imrali is not implemented in any other prison in Turkey,” Keskin said.

Solitary confinement is a common and well-known method of white torture. This term covers methods that are not so easily recognisable as torture to the public, but which attack the psyche or even the body of the torture victim and aim to destroy the person as a person.

Disciplinary sanctions provide a formal framework for isolation

“We are against all forms of torture, especially since we are defenders of human rights. In the case of Abdullah Öcalan, isolation is not limited to one person. Öcalan is a leading figure, his isolation has an effect on the whole of society. In the course of the so-called peace negotiations, the state pursued other methods. People in prisons have the right to receive visits from their relatives and lawyers. But criminal law does not apply to Imrali. Öcalan is abused as a political hostage. As human rights defenders, we cannot accept this. The IHD Headquarters has reiterated its demand for an end to the isolation on Imrali countless times and has even proposed to hold talks with Öcalan. So far, none of our requests has been responded positively”, Keskin reports.

Moreover, arbitrary practices such as disciplinary sanctions are regularly imposed on Öcalan and his three fellow prisoners on Imrali. Only last week it became known that the Imrali prisoners were again subjected to disciplinary measures on 21 October. According to Keskin, this is a formal framework to prevent family visits and lawyer consultations to maintain isolation. “We all know that there is no legal basis for measures like these.”

War responsible for economic crisis

Since the foundation of the republic, it has been common practice in Turkey to use no other method than violence in connection with the Kurdish question, says Keskin. The policy of war has been implemented all the time, even though it is clear that it does not produce results. “The cause of the economic crisis in Turkey is the war. Unfortunately, our working class is not aware of this. If one million people happened to take to the streets and shout that they do not want war and that the bread on their table is stolen, we would get peace”, Keskin said.

“The Kurdish problem cannot be solved with violent politics. This had become clear when society was able to breathe a sigh of relief for a short time during the peace process between the government and Öcalan. There were positive developments and the people were relieved. Everyone recognised that. War brings nothing but destruction; as advocates of human rights, it is our duty to stand up for peace.”

Keskin points out that although Turkey has ratified relevant anti-torture conventions, it is not questioned whether Ankara adheres to these. Reports of the European Committee against Torture (CPT) have hardly been made public. The CPT as an institution of the Council of Europe has the unrestricted right to investigate prisons, police stations, refugee camps and psychological clinics in the member states. If deemed necessary, the CPT may send a delegation to an institution of its choice and carry out investigations. It is the only institution which has the authority to visit Abdullah Öcalan. A CPT delegation last visited Imrali in April 2016, and the report on the visit was not published until two years later, as the reports produced after the visits cannot be published without the consent of the respective governments.

Turkey mustbe reminded of its responsibilities

Many more organisations dedicated to the fight against torture and other forms of human rights violations should send delegations to Imrali to investigate the conditions there and make them public, Keskin demands. The Turkish government must be reminded of its responsibility to act in accordance with the ratified conventions. “We have been campaigning against the system of isolation prevailing there since the beginning of Öcalan’s imprisonment at Imrali. Of course this also applies to the other prisons in the country. Our prison commission visits the prisons and submits reports. We will continue this fight until the isolation is ended.”

Disciplinary sanction for Öcalan and other 3 prisoners in Imrali

It has been disclosed that Kurdish People’s Leader Abdullah Öcalan and three other prisoners in Imralı were given a new disciplinary sentence on 21 October. Öcalan’s lawyers said the disciplinary sentences were sealed and therefore they could not learn

Abdullah Öcalan and the other prisoners in Imrali Ömer Hayri Konar, Hamili Yıldırım and Veysi Aktaş remain under isolation. In addition it has been disclosed that the four prisoners were given disciplinary penalties according to new information.

Lawyers had been able to meet with Öcalan for the first time, after an 8-year hiatus, on 2 May this year. Subsequent they were granted visist on 22 May, 12 June, 18 June and 7 August.

While previous applications for visit were arbitrarily and systematically rejected with a number of reasons (bad weather, boat broken), the applications made after 7 August have all gone unanswered.

The other three prisoners were transferred to Imralı during the so-called “solution process”.

Ibrahim Bilmez, one of the lawyers of the Asrın Law Office, and lawyer of the detainees in Imralı, recalled that the prison administration gave a disciplinary penalty on 10 July to Öcalan and the others. Bilmez said that a new disciplinary sentence was imposed on 21 October after the end of this sentence.

According to Bilmez, other prisoners, except Öcalan, objected to the disciplinary penalty of the administration. Bilmez said, “Mr. Öcalan does not object to these punishments because he thinks these disciplinary punishments are political. Mr. Öcalan is being sanctioned but the legal process is continuing because our other clients’ objection.”

Bilmez stated that they had learned about the last disciplinary punishment on 29 November and added that they appealed the punishment against Öcalan and the other clients but their objection was rejected.

Bilmez added that the disciplinary sanctions given to Öcalan and other clients are sealed and therefore it is impossible for lawyers to know their content.

Bilmez said that the disciplinary sanctions can include the ban on visits for families, however not the visits by lawyers.