In 2021, while the isolation deepened, the resistance was globalized - IV
While the CPT team ignored Imrali during its visit to Turkey in the opening days of 2021, the CoE raised the situation of Abdullah Öcalan in the fourth quarter of the year, in response to pressure from the Kurdish people and democratic public opinion.
The year 2021 marked the deepening of Kurdish People's Leader Abdullah Öcalan's isolation, the globalization of opposition to it, and the lawfulness and inhumane actions on Imrali were brought up in the international arena. Imrali, where the torture and aggravated isolation system becomes more and more intense with each passing year, became visible to the international institutions of which Turkey is a member thanks to the year-long struggle of the Kurds and other peoples.
Between the 11th and 25th of January 2021, a group from the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), of which 47 countries are members, visited Turkey. The CPT, which confirmed the visit in a statement a few days later, did not visit Imrali. Despite the declaration that the purpose of the visit was "to inspect the guarantees granted to those imprisoned by law enforcement agents, as well as the treatment and detention circumstances of those confined in jails," the Kurdish people were outraged by the CPT's "ignoring" of İmralı.
When meeting with the CPT delegation, IHD (Human Rights Association) Co-chair Öztürk Türkdoğan stated that they had expressed the lawlessness in İmralı and provided the following information: "We provided them with the newest report prepared by Asrın Law Office. The importance of talks with the government cannot be overstated. Following that, we'll see if visits will be possible and how beneficial the CPT is.” The CPT delegation stated, “We understand the gravity of the situation in Imrali, and we will refer it to the government". Despite the CPT's promise, no attempt was made by the CoE front for months to open the gates of Imrali and recognize the Kurdish People's Leader's "legal rights."
CALL ON THE CPT
As a result, in the final days of July, the lawyers for Abdullah Öcalan applied to the CPT, requesting that the committee take up their tasks immediately. The lawyers asked the CPT to take quick action, pointing out that the visit ban had been in place for the first six months of the year.
In September, this time, the Association of Lawyers for Freedom, Human Rights Association, Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, Society and Law Research Foundation, Civil Society in the Penal Execution System, and Contemporary Lawyers Association applied to the CPT for Abdullah Öcalan, Ömer Hayri Konar, Hamili Yıldırım and Veysi Aktaş who have been kept in isolation and barred from meeting with their lawyers.
CoE'S VAGUE RESPONSES TO THE FRENCH UNION
In addition to democratic public opinion in Kurdistan and Turkey, appeals were made from the European front to the Council of Europe, the organization to which the CPT is associated, with the campaign "Stop the lawlessness in Imrali" throughout 2021. On October 6, the French trade union Solidaires wrote to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Maria Pejcinovic-Buric, urging them to stop the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan.
A month later, Deputy Secretary General Miroslav Papa, on behalf of CoE Secretary General Pejcinovic-Buric, responded to the French union's letter. The CoE official Papa, who supplied "vague" replies to the events in Imrali, said, "As you know, regarding the terms of confinement in this prison, there is a frequent and confidential conversation between the CPT and the Turkish authorities. Be sure that the Council of Europe, its organs, and institutions, in accordance with their tasks, take the utmost care to have Turkey and all its member states conform with standards in the fields of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law."
CoE REMEMBERED the ECtHR DECISION AFTER 7 YEARS!
In its decision on the Öcalan on March 18, 2014, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) determined that the regulations regarding life imprisonment and aggravated life imprisonment were contrary to the prohibition of torture and ruled that legal regulations should be introduced in this regard. The Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers, which was expected to act and exert pressure on Turkey following this decision, finally put the case on its agenda during its meeting on November 30-December 2, after putting it on hold for 7 years.
The Committee of Ministers ruled in a statement issued following the meeting on 3 December that the requirements of the ECtHR judgement on aggravated life imprisonment, which is the topic of the "right to hope," have not been met in any way thus far.
The Committee further agreed that the Turkish government should take legislative and other appropriate measures as soon as possible for a review process to consider aggravated life imprisonment after a specific minimum duration.
In its decision, the Committee of Ministers asked Turkey's authorities to provide information on the progress made in the implementation of the general measures by the end of September 2022 at the latest, calling on Turkey to be inspired by the best examples of reforms implemented by other member states.
KCK: IT IS URGENT THAT THE DECISION IS PUT INTO PRACTICE
The CoE's judgment was viewed as an essential step toward bringing the matter on the world stage despite the fact that it was insufficient to end Öcalan’s isolation and ensure his physical freedom.
A few days following the CoE’s statement, the Executive Council Co-Presidency of the KCK (Kurdistan Communities Union) assessed the decision as "belated and insufficient, but it is vital to be put into practice."
Drawing attention to the fact that the Council of Europe is one of the main ones responsible for the tightened isolation system on Imrali, the KCK issued the following call to Kurdish and international public opinion to expand the resistance:
“Through the CPT, the Council of Europe officially notified Turkey three years ago that the aggravated life sentence was not in accordance with existing European law. Nevertheless, the Council of Europe has only now put this issue on its agenda and, moreover, has issued a clearly inadequate decision. Although the increased isolation on Imrali is a part and a direct consequence of the increased life sentence, the Council of Europe has not yet taken a clear position on this issue. For this reason, the international friends of the Kurds, democratic forces, legal institutions, and above all the Kurds themselves have criticized the recent decision as insufficient.
However, even if it is an insufficient decision, it is urgent that the Committee of Ministers now put its decision into practice and accordingly fulfill its responsibility to immediately lift the aggravated life sentence. Although it has come very late, the decision of the Committee of Ministers does represent a step toward the end of the aggravated life sentence. Likewise, it will make it even more difficult to continue to maintain isolation. The struggle of the Kurdish people exposes the fascist and undemocratic character of the Turkish state in such a way that today all the special war masks of the fascist regime are falling one by one. Our freedom struggle has revealed the true nature of the Turkish state and thus weakened both at home and abroad. This struggle will eventually spell the end of this fascist and anti-democratic rule.
The struggle against isolation and for the physical freedom of Rêber Apo has reached a new dimension in the course of 2021. His physical freedom has consequently become an important item on the agenda of the worldwide democratic forces. If we consider the struggle for the physical freedom of Rêber Apo and the resulting outcomes in connection with the recent decision of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, it is evident that in the 24th year of the International Conspiracy there will be important developments regarding the freedom of Rêber Apo and his freedom will turn into an actual reality. Our people, their international friends and the democratic forces of this world are already impatiently waiting to finally meet Rêber Apo and are therefore clearly saying that the time is ripe for Rêber Apo's freedom.”
While the KCK was calling for the termination of the torture and isolation system on Imrali, the illegal practices of the Turkish state on Imrali were on the agendas of not only the CoE, but also several western countries throughout 2021. The following is the position taken by certain Western governments on Öcalan’s isolation in 2021 as a result of domestic public pressure, particularly from the left and social democratic parties:
ENGLAND’S DEFENCE OF THE “RESPONSE TO CPT”
In January, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a member of the House of Commons, submitted a resolution to British Foreign Minister Wendy Morton, asking what would be done about the CPT's determination of the isolation imposed on Abdullah Öcalan on İmralı. The Foreign Minister answered the British parliamentarian's question about how to support the CPT's determination that the isolation on Imrali is intolerable.
British Minister Wendy Morton stated that her expectations from Turkey regarding human rights are "clear," and that "(Turkish) authorities" are supported in ensuring that prisoners' rights, such as the right to defense and medical care, are met in accordance with international human rights standards. It is worth noting that the statement endorsed Turkey's 'zero tolerance for torture and cooperation with the CPT’ response to the CPT report in 2019, in which such demands were made.
The statement indicated that they "welcome" Turkey's reaction and that Turkey will continue to be "supported" at the ministerial level in order for it to operate in accordance with the CoE accords. The statement further emphasized that this assistance would be extended to broader human rights improvements. Despite the British government's commitment, the AKP-MHP administration received no pressure or open call throughout the year.
SNP: ISOLATION IS UNACCEPTABLE
In contrast to the London administration, the Scottish National Party (SNP), which is in power in Scotland, issued unequivocal remarks about the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan. The SNP urged that the isolation in Imrali be stopped and that peace talks be restarted. The British Foreign Office was asked to urge Turkey's authorities to terminate the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan immediately.
“Keeping Öcalan in isolation for more than 20 years is clearly an inhuman punishment according to both Turkey's national laws and the international conventions it has signed,” the appeal read.
NORWAY: WE WILL WORK TO END THE ISOLATION
In Norway, Socialist Left Party Deputy Freddy André Øvstegård raised the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan and other inmates kept hostage on Imrali Island in a written question on December 18, 2020. The legislative response from Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide, who was urged to take an initiative to end Öcalan’s isolation and safeguard his rights, came in the early days of 2021.
Minister Soreide stated that they raised the issue during a meeting with the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs in August 2019 in order for Turkey, a member of the EU, to fulfill its obligations to respect fundamental democratic rights and the principles of the rule of law. The minister criticized the denial of regular family and lawyer visits, the restriction of communication between prisoners and the insufficient outdoor time. The minister pointed out that it is critical for their government to preserve the rights of Abdullah Öcalan and other detainees, adding, "Norway will continue to ask questions about matters linked to human rights breaches in the country."
AUSTRIA: CPT'S REPORTS ON TURKEY SHOULD BE ANNOUNCED
Deputies from the Social Democratic Party (SP) brought the aggravated isolation of Öcalan to the attention of the CoE and EU member Austria. In April, Minister for European Affairs Alexander Schallenberg responded to a parliamentary inquiry on the matter on behalf of the Vienna administration. The response letter, which said that Austria was worried about human rights issues in Turkey, recalled that Austria had adopted a stance to halt EU accession talks with Turkey since 2016.
Minister Schallenberg stated that his government requested Turkey before the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to publish reports on all CPT inspections since 2016, referring to the CPT report issued in August last year, which included its findings in several prisons, including Imrali. Explaining Austria's position that Turkey should comply with all CoE judgments, minister Schallenberg recalled the CPT report on its 2019 visit which included the remarks of "we are concerned" regarding the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan.