Lawyer Bilmez: According to the ECHR, our clients have been under torture since 2014

Lawyer Ibrahim Bilmez said that "according to the ECHR, our clients have been under torture since 2014."

There has been no news for 40 months from Kurdish People's Leader Abdullah Öcalan, who has been held in severe isolation conditions in Imrali Prison Island for more than 25 years. Abdullah Öcalan, whose right to family and lawyers visit has been usurped, is kept in a state of absolute lack of communication. In the face of this unlawfulness, the authorized institutions, especially the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), which has the sole authority to enter Imrali, remain silent.

ANF spoke to one of Abdullah Öcalan’s lawyers, Ibrahim Bilmez. The first part of this interview can be read here.

As Abdullah Öcalan's lawyer, one of the institutions through which you bear the lawlessness in Imrali is the UN Human Rights Committee. In your speech at the conference held at the UN Geneva Office, you called on the authorized bodies of the UN to take action against the Imrali isolation. What kind of responsibility do these bodies have, and at what stage are your applications here?

For a long time, we used international law mechanisms through the bodies of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and the Council of Europe. I explained to you the ECHR's approach: It still has not responded to our application about isolation for 12 years.

In the past, we made applications to the relevant UN bodies and commissariats. In order to overcome the isolation, we made an application to the UN Human Rights Committee on 29 July 2022. This Committee also functions as a universal international court like the ECHR.

It receives individual applications and makes a judgment on behalf of those countries. Its difference from the ECHR is that it has jurisdiction all over the world. In this context, we also made an application here with our petition explaining the situation. The UN Human Rights Committee accepted our request on 6 September 2022 and requested measures from the Turkish government.

Pointing out that the isolation conditions are unacceptable, the Committee requested Turkey to immediately pave the way for Abdullah Öcalan and the other three prisoners in Imrali to have unlimited access to the lawyers of their choice.

Despite this decision of the Committee, Turkey did nothing and did not fulfill the request. We conveyed this situation to the UN Human Rights Committee again. Thereupon, the Committee requested measures again in January 2023. But Turkey did not comply with this request.

Today, our case at the UN Human Rights Committee still continues. We are sure that the UN Human Rights Committee will condemn Turkey. Because this isolation is not compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, the UN conventions, or Turkey's own constitution.

Again, on 17 May 2024, we applied to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Independence of Judges and Lawyers. We applied to the Torture Rapporteur because the isolation conditions in Imrali are conditions of torture. It is not possible to name this situation with any other term, because these conditions are clearly torture conditions.

'According to the ECHR, our clients have been under torture since 2014'

In 2014, we applied to the ECHR regarding the aggravated life imprisonment sentence. The ECHR ruled that the sentence of aggravated life imprisonment constituted a violation of Article 3 of the Convention on Human Rights. In other words, it stated that the ban on torture was violated in Imrali. It said that the method of execution of the aggravated life imprisonment sentence was torture. According to this decision of the ECHR, our clients have been under legal torture since 2014, when this decision was issued.

I say all this regardless of the isolation conditions. Already, isolation conditions mean torture. We conveyed these demands to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

We are also prevented from doing our own profession. Our clients are given disciplinary penalties and family visits are prevented. We are not involved in those processes. These decisions are not notified to us. Even though we applied when we learned about this situation and requested that these decisions be forwarded to us, those decisions are not sent to us.

Lawyer banning decisions are being made again. We are not informed, and we are not included in this process. Therefore, we cannot practise our own profession. That's why we also applied to the UN Special Rapporteur defending the independence of judges and lawyers. We continue to follow this file.

'Silence is connected with the approach to the Kurdish question'

As you stated, we have witnessed that both domestic and international law are not implemented in Imrali. On the other hand, despite this unlawfulness, the relevant bodies remain silent in the face of this isolation. How should this silence be addressed?

I think that the silence of states and supra-state official organizations is entirely related to the Kurdish question. It is a situation related to the approach towards the solution and non-solution of the Kurdish question. As a result, it is not possible to claim that the isolation conditions of Mr. Öcalan is independent of the solution to the Kurdish question. Mr. Öcalan's position is known. Abdullah Öcalan is seen both as a leader by the Kurdish people and as an important actor in the solution to the Kurdish question. Millions of people signed campaigns in the past, showing Mr. Öcalan as their political will. At that time, people were being tried and arrested solely because Mr. Öcalan was called Mr. Despite this threat of arrest, so many people signed. This is the situation on the Kurdish front.

On the other hand, although the state tried to "demonise" and lynch Mr. Öcalan in the press and in public during the trial process in 1999, actually knew about Mr. Öcalan's past efforts and search for a solution to the Kurdish question. In other words, the state also accepted Mr. Öcalan as an actor. That's why he held secret meetings behind closed doors in Imrali after 1999.

' Abdullah Öcalan is a great chance for the people of Turkey'

Later, the Oslo talks were held between the PKK and state officials. Then, after 2012, a process called the "solution process" was developed. Mr. Öcalan was addressed directly. Therefore, it must be said clearly that Mr. Öcalan is a great opportunity for both the Turkish state and the Turkish people. He has a very sincere approach and will toward the solution of the Kurdish question. We witnessed this situation first-hand when we went to Imrali.

Mr. Öcalan was always trying and searching for a solution. And we witnessed that he had the power to do this. He examined all the issues similar to this issue in the world. He developed the most reasonable solution suggestions. He enabled the formation of the Dolmabahçe Consensus. He really has great sincerity and strength to solve this issue. Therefore, we are not talking about an ordinary person. That's why it is necessary to connect this isolation with the Kurdish question. Therefore, the silence of international organizations and states regarding this isolation is related to their perspective on the Kurdish question.

There may also be hegemonic powers that do not want the Kurdish question to be resolved democratically and peacefully. They are aware that the unresolved Kurdish question weakens Turkey and the Middle East. The Kurdish question, along with the Palestinian question, is one of the most burning problems in the Middle East. As Mr. Öcalan has stated many times in his defense, if Turkey had solved the Kurdish question, for example, if it had supported the structure in Rojava rather than seeing it as an enemy, perhaps we would be at a very different point today. 

Turkey could only do this by democratizing. Some powers may not want a democratized Turkey, a Turkey where peoples are liberated, Kurdistan and a Middle East. Therefore, international relations are a bit complex and complicated in this regard.

For all these reasons, there is a structure called law. It is necessary to comply with the requirements of the law. What is required by law is that the isolation imposed on Mr. Öcalan be lifted and removed as soon as possible. International judicial mechanisms need to at least make the necessary interventions on this issue.

'Turkey cannot ignore the freedom campaign'

On 10 October 2023, a global campaign was launched under the name "Freedom for Abdullah Öcalan, Political Solution to the Kurdish Question". This campaign continues to grow by including different social segments. This campaign also draws attention to the fact that Turkey is becoming increasingly isolated in the international arena. What would you like to say about the importance of this campaign?

First of all, I think this campaign is very important. I think Turkey has no chance of ignoring this campaign. Even if Turkey closes its eyes and ignores this campaign, the reality is there. Turkey's image is being damaged by this campaign.

Mr. Öcalan's solution perspectives for the Middle East are rapidly becoming more well-known and discussed both in Europe and the world. Conferences are held on these issues. Thanks to this campaign, this isolation condition has become more visible and audible. Although international organizations and states remain silent, democratic public opinion in many countries is now starting to speak out. Therefore, it is impossible for Turkey not to be affected by this. I think that if this campaign continues to grow stronger in this way, a positive result will be achieved in the near future.

'We can break isolation with solidarity'

Is there anything you would like to add?

Solidarity is very important in breaking isolation. There is a state practice and reality that does not implement its own law and international law. Unfortunately, other states and international powers largely turn a blind eye to this situation. For this reason, all international democratic public opinion and especially civil society organizations need to raise their voice and take action on this issue. We expect their solidarity. I think we will overcome this isolation with solidarity.