International Delegation Against Isolation presents new report

The International Delegation Against Isolation urges the CPT to publish a statement setting out a summary of their findings, calling on Turkey to implement without delay the previous recommendations of the CPT and the ECtHR.

The ongoing isolation of Kurdish people's Leader Abdullah Öcalan is mobilizing international organizations. The International Delegation Against Isolation was in Ankara, Istanbul and Diyarbakir to hold a series of meetings with various people on 24-29 January. The delegation made up of 36 lawyers, politicians, academics and activists from 7 countries in Europe and South Africa examined both the isolation issue and the conditions of fascism created by the AKP-MHP government.

Based on its talks with political parties, bar associations and non-governmental organizations, the International Delegation Against Isolation today presented its report which highlights the role of Abdullah Öcalan for a solution to the Kurdish question and democratization.

The report “Solitary Confinement and Isolation Policies in Turkey” was presented by two members of the delegation, Avukat Altamira Ana Guelbenzu Gonzalo and Sophie Jane Caseley, in an online meeting on Monday.

Highlights from the International Delegation Against Isolation are as follows:

“On 25 March 2023, it will have been two years since the outside world last heard any sign of life from Abdullah Öcalan. Since his arrest and subsequent conviction in 1999, the Kurdish leader has been imprisoned in the F-Type High-Security Prison on Imrali Island. Together with three fellow inmates, Ömer Hayri Konar, Hamili Yıldırım, and Veysi Aktaş, he remains subject to a detention regime of strict isolation. All four prisoners are barred from any communication with their families as well as with their lawyers. Such type of incommunicado imprisonment violates international human rights instruments and standards.

In what would constitute a worrying trend, the Imrali detention regime has reportedly become an example for other prisons across Turkey since the breakdown of the PKK- Turkish peace process in 2015. The alleged isolation of prisoners would thus constitute a facet of the wider escalation between the Turkish authorities and the Kurdish movement.

The lack of an effective remedy - both domestically (due to the lack of independence of the judiciary) as well as internationally - was a recurrent theme. For example, the recommendations of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe following the European Court of Human Rights judgments have been repeatedly ignored, as set out within Asrin Law Office’s most recent report.

The approach to Imralı Prison and the legal and political practices in the prison is a litmus test of democracy and protection of human rights in Turkey. We once again call on those in positions of responsibility in Turkey to urgently restore the rule of law in Imralı Prison. It is therefore imperative to perceive this state of affairs not only as a legal, but also as a political problem.

The discriminatory execution regime against political prisoners, which was first implemented in Imralı Island Prison and gradually spread to all prisons in Turkey, must be abolished. Respect for the basic human rights of all prisoners must be reestablished as the norm and not as an exception. The system created on İmralı Island is being deployed as a political tool. It no longer constitutes an exception but has evolved into an ordinary legal- political regime that has spread throughout the country. Isolation is implemented throughout society and is not only confined to prisons.

The regime of isolation affects not only Abdullah Öcalan and political prisoners in Turkey, but the entire social opposition. The order of repression and exploitation based on a society subjected to these levels of political repression encroaches on social life in its totality. This finds expression in the severe oppression and repression of those who dissent and oppose the policies and actions of the government and the Turkish state, by arrests and detention, arbitrary court procedures, convictions, and imposing direct and long terms of imprisonment, of such people. Its worst expression is in the form of isolation, i.e. total isolation of those political dissenters and opposition groups/parties and their leaders who are languishing in prison.

The Kurdish issue and concomitant problems such as poverty, hunger, migration, and refugees, gender-based inequalities and violence, cultural erosion, and environmental destruction caused by the war cannot be resolved without building a proper answer to all the said problems and mainly without bringing to an end to the ending the incommunicado detention and the systematic violation of the prohibition of torture in İmralı Prison. This encirclement can only be overcome through only a joint legal, political and social struggle at every level.

Due to its significance and ramifications, the Kurdish issue has grown into a problem on a regional and global scale. Efforts geared towards its solution should therefore also be discussed by taking into account its impact and consequences for the Middle East and the world at large. For this, it is essential for all progressive forces around the world to take the initiative and mobilise.

Last but as important as the rest of the conclusions, we cannot stress enough how concerned the members of the Delegation are by the persecution of lawyers by the Turkish state, simply for doing their job.

It is alarming that the lawyers and human rights defenders who carry out legal activities to assist the prisoners in İmralı Prison, where all rights are suspended, are prevented from doing their work and subjected to investigations and prosecutions. This itself is an indication of how much the field of law and human rights has come under attack, both as a profession and as a normative framework.

Lawyers are fundamental to the rule of law and if they are persecuted, the accused cannot have a fair trial or equality before the law. Furthermore, detainees must have the fundamental right to access lawyers without hindrance and to safeguard the legal privilege and confidentiality of their communications. States also have a duty to respect the fundamental role of lawyers in guaranteeing the right to a fair trial and a just execution of lawful punishment, and not to act in violation of the rights and specific prerogatives that every state under the rule of law must guarantee to lawyers, as specified by UN Basic Principles 8 and 16 on the role of lawyers. The fundamental issue underlining all of this is the lack of independence of the judiciary, as emphasized by the ABA.

The solution to all these problems lies in the democratic and societal solution to the Kurdish issue. The main purpose of isolation practices is to suppress the legitimate democratic struggle and the cohesion of the social opposition. Öcalan’s freedom is inevitable for a peaceful and political solution to the Kurdish issue and the democratisation of Turkey. Therefore, the primary and essential objective of all oppositional forces and law and human rights defenders must be the complete abolition of the extra-legal İmralı system.

There is an urgent need for the international community-via bar associations and other lawyers’ associations to take note of the worsening situation in Turkey and the erosion of the rule of law. The prevailing conditions in Turkey are similar to a permanent and sustained state of emergency. This unlawful state of affairs must be ended immediately.

In light of the continued non-publication of the CPT’s report, we remain deeply concerned about the fact that the harmful policies applied in Imrali and other high-security prisons continue with no checks and balances.

Given Turkey's failure to follow previous recommendations of the CPT, we urge the CPT to make use of Article 10 (2) of the Convention to publish a statement setting out a summary of their findings, particularly in relation to the prisoners at Imrali, even before the publication of their report. We urge the government of Turkey to implement the recommendations made by the CPT in their last report and also ask the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe to discuss the next steps, particularly given Turkey's past failure to comply with CPT recommendations.

We call on the Turkish state to implement without delay the previous recommendations of the CPT and European Court of Human Rights (Ocalan No 2). This will include allowing prisoners to associate, the right of access to lawyers and family, effective legal remedies to challenge prison conditions, and abolishing the aggravated life sentence which contravenes Article 3 ECHR. Solitary confinement cannot be indefinite with no supervisory mechanism.”