Rumors are spreading on social media that Abdullah Öcalan has died in prison. The Asrin Law Office, which represents the PKK founder and other prisoners on Imralı, demands immediate communication with their clients. International Initiative “Freedom for Abdullah Öcalan—Peace in Kurdistan” calls on international institutions to act immediately. The Commission on Foreign Relations of the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK) calls the Council of Europe, the European Commission and the UN to act immediately: ‘act in the fields of human rights, democracy and conflict resolution to dedicate resources to pressuring the Turkish state to comply with international law.’
In Turkey, rumors are spreading via social media that Abdullah Öcalan has died in prison. In light of this situation, it is imperative to obtain clarity on this issue, says the Asrin Law Office, demanding immediate communication with its client and his fellow prisoners on the prison island of Imrali.
In a statement on Monday, Asrın Law Office, which has been legally representing the PKK founder since his deportation from Kenya to Turkey in February 1999 in violation of international law, said, “We are not able to communicate in any way with our clients Abdullah Öcalan, Ömer Hayri Konar, Hamili Yıldırım and Veysi Aktaş, who are imprisoned in Imrali. While the last lawyer conversation in Imrali Prison limited to Mr. Öcalan took place on August 7, 2019, the last communication of our clients with the outside world took place in a phone call on April 27, 2020. The only telephone call from Imrali to date had been authorized at that time due to the pandemic.
On March 14, 2021, allegations about Abdullah Öcalan’s situation were made on a number of anonymous social media accounts. We have no information about our clients’ situation since April 27, 2020. We are seriously examining any information about the situation on Imrali and taking the necessary steps. We do not know the source from which these allegations come or are spread, but the most important thing for us is that these allegations are regularly made regarding Öcalan. Undoubtedly, the severe isolation on Imrali is the most important reason for this situation. Imrali is cut off from any means of obtaining information. The fact that Imrali Prison is not a standard prison that can be visited regularly by family members and lawyers and from which information can be obtained about the health and living conditions of prisoners, raises serious and necessary concerns about the allegations made. The way to address these concerns is to open the channels of communication to Imrali as soon as possible.
We insist on our demand for an end to the isolation that constitutes mistreatment of prisoners at Imrali and for the creation of communication channels to address concerns about health and living conditions there. Once again, we call on policymakers and authorities to act responsibly by abandoning this discriminatory isolation practice applied to a single prison and a single group of detainees, making the situation in Imrali Prison verifiable, and allowing the right to legal visits and communication without distinction.”
International Initiative: Open the Gates of Imralı now!
International Initiative “Freedom for Abdullah Öcalan—Peace in Kurdistan” calls on international institutions to act immediately.
The statement reads as follows: “Mr. Öcalan’s legal team, the Asrın Law Office, published a statement addressing rumors that began to circulate widely about Abdullah Öcalan’s well-being. We share the concerns of the lawyers, as well as their reasonable and just demand for immediate access to Abdullah Öcalan and their three other clients at the İmralı Island Prison.
The lawyers have been blocked from consulting with Abdullah Öcalan since 7 August 2019, and, since 1999, Öcalan has only had one telephone conversation with a family member, on 27 April 2020. Since then, the lawyers have not been able to communicate in any way with their clients, although it is their clients’ constitutional and legal right to consult with their lawyers. In reality, Abdullah Öcalan, Ömer Hayri Konar, Hamili Yıldırım, and Veysi Aktaş have, in fact, been totally isolated for much longer; their isolation was only broken by a hunger strike led by Leyla Güven, who was then in prison and has since been re-imprisoned, with others prisoners and people around the world joining in. There is now another ongoing hunger strike that began more than one hundred days ago.
The vengeful Turkish state policies against Öcalan and his fellow prisoners make it possible that any rumor is true; it is impossible to verify or discount any claim made about his well-being. This means that any intentional harm done to him will also go unnoticed.
The silence of the international organizations and institutions is resounding. The Council of Europe appears incapable of following up on recommendations made by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT). The Committee of Ministers is failing to enforce the execution of the European Court of Human Rights judgments, and the UN just watches as Turkey tramples all over international agreements and conventions repeatedly.
We are not demanding that the prisoners on İmralı Island receive special treatment; on the contrary, we are demanding that their special treatment ends.
We have called attention to these issues on numerous occasions. The isolation system in the İmralı Island prison is clearly outside of the boundaries of domestic and international law, and in violation of human rights agreements and conventions. The whole İmralı prison complex must be disbanded. All those involved in maintaining the complete isolation at the İmralı Island Prison are acting illegally and are engaging in an ongoing human rights violation.
The only way to end the speculation around the well-being of those imprisoned, and preclude any possibility of these rumors becoming a reality is to make İmralı Island Prison transparent. We demand the immediate end to total isolation. Open the gates of İmralı Island Prison now!
We once again call on everybody to: put pressure on the international institutions that Turkey is party to, namely the Council of Europe and the United Nations, as well as all other political and human rights bodies; put pressure on your local representatives to demand an end to isolation; help achieve our goals: “Freedom for Abdullah Öcalan—Peace in Kurdistan” now.
Urgent KNK appeal – The uncertain situation of Abdullah Öcalan
The Commission on Foreign Relations of the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK) released a statement calling on the Council of Europe, the European Commission and the UN to act immediately in light of the rumors about Abdullah Öcalan. According to the KNK, the integrity and freedom of Abdullah Öcalan are crucial for a solution to the Kurdish question and spreading rumors is part of the Turkish state’s psychological warfare.
The statement by KNK Foreign Relations Committee includes the following:
“On 14 March 2021, rumors were disseminated by a number of anonymous Turkish digital media accounts alleging that Kurdish peoples’ leader Abdullah Öcalan had died in prison. Over the last 22 years of Mr. Öcalan’s inhumane isolation in the prison island of Imrali, we have seen that spreading such rumors is a part of the psychological component of the Turkish state’s war against the Kurdish people.
Due to the absence of any dependable information on Mr. Öcalan’s current situation, the Kurdish people and their friends are deeply concerned. The allegations concerning Mr. Öcalan’s life were spread shortly before Newroz, the Kurdish New Year festival, on 21 March. Newroz, which has been celebrated by Kurds for over 2,600 years, is a festival of life and resistance, and has become an important demonstration of national identity and resistance to occupation and foreign rule. As this important day approaches, Kurds worldwide have been on high alert in response to the rumors concerning Mr. Öcalan.
The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) of the Council of Europe has not imposed sanctions against Turkey and only issued written or oral criticisms of the Turkish state. The inhumane and lawless conditions of the Imrali Island F-Type Closed High Security Prison where Abdullah Öcalan has been held since 1999 have continued until today. Regarding the conditions at Imrali, a total ban on contact with the outside world (including correspondence) was imposed on all prisoners held at Imrali Prison, resulting in a type of incommunicado imprisonment.
The CPT itself stated that “such a state of affairs is not acceptable and clearly contravenes various relevant international human rights instruments and standards”. Separately, a report by the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur Juan Méndez to the UN General Assembly in October 2011 stated that solitary confinement “can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment” and called on all countries to ban this practice except in very exceptional circumstances. Nonetheless, Mr. Öcalan’s isolation persists. The last visit of Mr. Öcalan’s lawyer to Imrali occurred on 7 August 2019, and Mr. Öcalan’s most recent communication with his family took place by phone on 27 April 2020. It is obvious that the current detention regime enforced by the Turkish state at Imrali is contrary to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules).
For years, Turkey has been in a state of crisis, with authoritarian Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party and Nationalist Movement Party (AKP-MHP) coalition government crushing all forms of dissent to maintain and strengthen their grip on power. Erdoğan has rendered all other state institutions powerless, with no checks remaining on his ability to rule by decree. On 26 February 2021, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet highlighted human rights violations in Turkey in her report to the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council.
Turkey is a member of the Council of Europe. First and foremost, the Council of Europe and its Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) are responsible for ensuring compliance of international law in the prison island of İmrali and enabling an immediate visit of Mr. Öcalan’s lawyers to İmrali. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights must also act urgently to take action against Turkey, a UN member state, and the European Commission must ensure that Turkey fulfill its obligations with respect to democratization, human rights, and rule of law as a candidate for EU membership.
Lastly, we call on international organizations active in the fields of human rights, democracy and conflict resolution to dedicate resources to pressuring the Turkish state to comply with international law.
Abdullah Öcalan, accepted by millions of Kurds as the legitimate representative of the Kurdish people and the leader of their resistance against Turkish state oppression, played a central role in discussions of a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question. The freedom of the Kurdish people’s leader Mr. Öcalan is vital to the solution of the Kurdish question.”