A peace delegation reports on the dire situation of political prisoners in Turkey

Every year since the kidnapping and imprisonment of Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan 23 years ago, an international peace delegation has collected evidence about the treatment of political prisoners in Turkey.

This year’s Imrali delegation – as it is popularly known – reported that the cruel solitary confinement regime imposed on Öcalan in Imrali Island prison is now being introduced throughout the prison system in Turkey.

“F-type isolation prisons are being built, and within the current prison walls, the isolation of political prisoners is becoming common practice as well as the imposition of harsh disciplinary sanctions,” the delegation said in a statement. press release dated February 16.

“Under these conditions, political prisoners are mistreated and tortured, the elderly and people with serious illnesses are deprived of medical care.

The delegation also reported that:

• Rape and sexual abuse by village guards and military or prison personnel are commonplace in a system that guarantees impunity for perpetrators.

• Freedom of expression is non-existent in Turkey and thousands of people are constantly persecuted, arrested, held in preventive detention for long periods of time and then sentenced to heavy prison terms based on political whims. Those who disagree that they regret their “mistakes” or show “good manners” face increased penalties.

Laura Quagliuolo, member of the delegation, Italian editor, writer and veteran women’s rights activist, said left green that in general “there are like 30 political prisoners in a cell which was built to hold 14”.

“There are a lot of suicides, and when that happens, the guards tell the other prisoners that they will be next,” Quagliuolo said.

“When and if a prisoner gets a visit it’s not private, always a guard is there to listen to what he says.”

This year’s Imrali delegation was the largest yet and its other members were: Andrea Kocsondi, from the executive of the General Federation of British Trade Unions (GFTU); Barbara Spinelli, co-president of the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights in the world; Christine Blower, former general secretary of the National Union of Teachers in Great Britain; Clare Baker, international leader of the UK union Unite; Claire Jones, General Secretary of the British Society of Union Employees (SUE); Dimitri Roussopoulos, editor, publisher, ecologist and community animator; Doug Nicholls, leader of the British General Federation of Trade Unions; Federico Venturini, associate researcher at the Italian University of Udine; Kariane Westrheim, professor of educational sciences at the Norwegian University of Bergen; Laura Quagliuolo, Italian editor and writer; Mahmoud Patel, South African academic, jurist and human rights activist; British lawyer Margaret Owen OBE; Melanie Gingell, British lawyer and lecturer in international human rights law; Radha D’Souza, professor of law at the British University of Westminster; Şerife Ceren Uysal, co-secretary general of the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights in the world; Shavanah Taj, General Secretary of the Welsh Trades Union Congress; Thomas Jeffrey Miley, sociologist at the University of Cambridge; and Ögmundur Jónasson, former Icelandic Minister of Justice.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s delegation carried out its investigation through online interviews with political representatives, human rights and women’s rights organizations, associations of prisoners and their families, and lawyers representing Öcalan, with whom contact was denied in violation of international law.

The delegation wrote to Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag requesting a virtual meeting with Öcalan, but received no acknowledgment of that request, let alone a response.

Öcalan’s lawyers confirmed that there had been no communication with him since March 25 last year.

Turkish authorities have tightened Öcalan’s isolation since the Council of Europe’s Commission Against Torture (CPT) declared in August 2020 that “solitary confinement” as practiced on the island of ‘Imrali was “not acceptable” and that measures to improve this situation should be taken “without further delay”. delay”.

The Turkish government reacted by banning further visits, whether with family or lawyers, and banning all telephone contact with the Kurdish leader.

The delegation called on the CPT to follow up on its statements that Turkey respects international law and to demand direct meetings with Öcalan and his lawyers. A CPT delegation visited Turkey last year, but did not visit Imrali or even provide information on Öcalan’s state of health.

The delegation is deeply concerned by the Turkish authorities’ failure to comply with the recommendations of international human rights bodies, and even more so by the silence of international bodies.

The delegation appealed to all institutions in the world responsible for international conventions on human rights and the rule of law to demand that Öcalan’s isolation be ended without delay.

“After all these years, despite the torture he endures, Öcalan’s message remains one of conciliation, as he continually insists on peace and democracy,” the delegation’s statement read.

“His presence at a negotiating table is essential for peace in the region.”

Sharon P. Juarez