Open letter to Thorbjorn Jagland, Secretary General of the CoE
The signatories urged Jagland to take urgent and concrete steps to insist and ensure that Turkey complies with the 'Nelson Mandela Rules' and lift solitary confinement on Mr. Öcalan and all political prisoners.
A number of UK lawyers, barristers, MEPs, MPs, academics and journalists sent an open letter to Thorbjorn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe.
In the letter, titled “Turkey’s non-compliance with ‘Nelson Mandela Rules’ and the case of Abdullah Öcalan and political prisoners in Turkey, the signatories tell Mr. Jagland that “The Council of Europe’s abject failure to condemn Turkey’s treatment of prisoners cannot be excused and now threatens to undermine the credibility of the core values of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
The signatories also urged Jagland to “take urgent and concrete steps with the means available to you as the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to insist and ensure that Turkey complies with the 'Nelson Mandela Rules' and lift solitary confinement on Mr. Öcalan and all political prisoners and guarantee their basic right to receive regular visits from lawyers and family members.”
The full text of the letter and signatories is as follows:
Dear Mr Jagland
The Council of Europe’s abject failure to condemn Turkey’s treatment of prisoners cannot be excused and now threatens to undermine the credibility of the core values of the European Convention on Human Rights.
As you well know, the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners was first adopted by the UN in 1957. They were revised in 2015 and adopted as 'Nelson Mandela Rules' unanimously by the UN General Assembly to honour the legacy of the late President of South Africa, ‘who spent 27 years in prison in the course of his struggle for global human rights, equality, democracy and the promotion of a culture of peace’.
Given the devastating effect on physical and mental health of solitary confinement, the Rules stipulate that this punishment should only be used in exceptional cases, as a last resort, for as short a time as possible, after authorisation by a competent authority, and subject to independent review. Indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement (of more than 15 days) is prohibited entirely. The Rules define solitary confinement as confinement for more than 22 hours per day without meaningful human contact.
Amongst many other rights, prisoners must be given adequate opportunity, time and confidential facilities to meet with their lawyer. They should have access to effective legal aid, in accordance with international standards. Prisoners are allowed to receive visits and to contact their family and friends through other means such as by phone or letters. Prisoners have the right to inform friends or family about their imprisonment, transfer and of serious illness or injury.
Turkey has held Abdullah Öcalan, the Kurdish political leader in the Imrali island prison in the sea of Marmara since 1999. There have been long periods of isolation imposed on him during the last two decades. No-one from his doctors, his lawyers have been allowed to visit him for the last three and half years.
There is overwhelming evidence that in the case of Abdullah Öcalan and other political prisoners, Turkey is in grave violation of the 'Nelson Mandela Rules'. As you may know, one of the prisoners who recently was subjected to such a treatment was the Kurdish Parliamentarian Leyla Güven, for exercising her right to freedom of speech in criticising the Turkish intervention in Afrin, Northern Syria. She went on hunger strike on 8 of November against the Turkish use of solitary confinement. About 300 political prisoners and many civilians internationally joined her in solidarity hunger strikes. On her release from prison, she said,
"Even though I may have been released on January 25, 2019, on the 79th day of my hunger strike, which I had begun on November 8, 2018 in order to break the isolation and torture system imposed on Mr Öcalan, I want you to know that I will continue my hunger strike until this isolation on Mr Öcalan is ended and his most basic right to receive regular visits from his lawyers and family members is guaranteed."
There are millions of people across the world who would agree with her and admire her courage in standing for principles of justice. We hope that you do too.
We, the undersigned urge you to take urgent and concrete steps with the means available to you as the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to insist and ensure that Turkey complies with the 'Nelson Mandela Rules' and lift solitary confinement on Mr Öcalan and all political prisoners and guarantee their basic right to receive regular visits from lawyers and family members.
Mike Mansfield QC; Dr Radha D’Souza, Reader in Law, Westminster University; Geoffrey D. Shears, trade union lawyer; Vice-Chair of Centre for Labour and Trade Union Studies; Professor Bill Bowring, School of Law, Birkbeck College, University of London; Paul Scholey, Morrish Solicitors LLP; Rajiv Menon QC, barrister; Stephen Knight, barrister; Thomas Schmidt, Secretary General, ELDH and EJDM; Margret Owen OBE, human rights lawyer; Maxine Peake, Actor; Julie Ward MEP; Martina Anderson MEP; Jean Lambert MEP; Professor Kariane Westrheim, Chair, EU Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC); Dr Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Lecturer of Political Sociology, Cambridge University; Dr Derek Wall, Goldsmith, University of London; Doug Nicholls, General Secretary, General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU); Manuel Cortes, General Secretary, TSSA; Tony Burke, Assistant General Secretary of UNITE; Christine Blower, Ex-President of National Union of Teachers (NUT); Simon Dubbins, International Director UNITE; Clare Baker, International Officer UNITE; Stephen Smellie, Deputy Convenor, UNISON Scotland; Steve Sweeney, International Editor, Morning Star; Les Levidow, Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC); Saleh Mamon, CAMPACC; Alastair Lyon, solicitor; Robert Atkins, lawyer; Thomas Phillips, University of Liverpool; Tony Simpson, Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation; Eric Allison, journalist; Dr Felix Padel, author, researcher; James Kelman, writer; Nick Hildyard, policy analyst; John Hunt, journalist; Jonathan Bloch, writer; Rahila Gupta, journalist and writer; Greta Sykes, writer; Dr. Federico Venturini, independent activist-researcher; Mary Davis, Visiting Professor Royal Holloway University London; Bruce Kent, peace campaigner; Maggie Bowden, General Secretary, Liberation; Isabel Kaeser, PhD student SOAS University; Sarah Parker, writer; Dr Sarah Glynn, architect, artist; Trevor Rayne, journalist; Hagir Ahmed, human rights campaigner; David Morgan, journalist; Khatchatur Pilikian, writer; Yashar Ismailoglu, poet; Paul Maskey, MP for West Belfast; Francie Molloy, MP for Mid Ulster; Michelle Gildernew, MP for Fermanagh South Tyrone; Mickey Brady, MP for Newry & Armagh; Elisha McCallion, MP for Foyle; Chris Hazzard, MP for South Down; Órfhliath Begley, MP for West Tyrone; Chris Stephens MP; Jill Evans MEP; Hywel Williams MP; Ben Lake MP; Dafydd Iwan, Former President Plaid Cymru; Stephen Gethins MP; Tommy Sheppard MP; Chris Stephens MP; Melanie Gingell, Peace in Kurdistan; Estella Schmid, Peace in Kurdistan.