Justice Ministry says visits to jailed PKK leader Öcalan were disrupted due to 'unavoidable reasons'

In an opinion submitted to the Constitutional Court, the Justice Ministry has argued that visits to the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan were disrupted due to “unavoidable reasons,” giving no information as to what these reasons were.

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Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan has been kept in isolation for 24 years in F Type High-Security Prison on İmralı Island in Bursa. The jailed PKK leader last had a brief phone call with his brother on March 25, 2021. Since the interrupted phone call, no information has been received from Öcalan as well as other prisoners on the island (Hamili Yıldırım, Veysi Aktaş, and Ömer Hayri Konar). 

The prison administration prevented Öcalan and other prisoners from receiving visitors with a decision taken on May 7, 2021. Lawyers were not informed about the decision; thus, they were denied the right to appeal.

The prison administration took two more decisions on Aug. 18 and Nov. 23, 2021, preventing Öcalan from seeing visitors for six months. In addition, on Oct. 12, 2021, the Bursa 4th Execution Judgeship ruled to prevent Öcalan from meeting with his lawyers for six months.

The lawyers then filed an individual application to the Constitutional Court (AYM) on Dec. 24, 2021, stating that their clients were subjected to ill-treatment due to aggravated isolation and obstructions.

The Constitutional Court requested the opinion of the Justice Ministry on these applications. The Ministry submitted opinions to the top court with regards to the communication ban. 

Mezopotamya News Agency (MA) accessed the opinion submitted by the ministry to the Constitutional Court on March 24, 2023, regarding the application for the prevention of lawyer and family visits. The ministry argued that the isolation in İmralı is not "ill-treatment" and argued that ill-treatment is "relative."

The ministry's response also stated that the execution of the sentence given to Öcalan and other prisoners "involves more difficulties compared to the sentences of other convicts in similar situations."

The Ministry's assessment of the denial of family and lawyer visits was that "it is reasonable that there are unavoidable reasons for disruptions in the meetings of Öcalan and other applicants in the same penal institution with their families and lawyers under strict security measures." However, no information was provided as to what these "unavoidable reasons" were.

The Constitutional Court requested the opinion of lawyers on April 3, following the Ministry's submission of its opinion. The lawyers submitted their opinions on April 18, emphasizing that the arguments put forward by the Ministry do not reflect the truth.

Lawyers drew attention to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee's Benali-Libya resolution. They reminded that the Turkish authorities were violating the UN's prohibition on torture by preventing family and lawyer visits and characterized the situation as "incommunicado."

Lawyers also drew attention to the report prepared by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) in 2020, which deemed the isolation of Öcalan "unacceptable." The lawyers reminded that the CPT found the "official justification" for preventing family visits to be deceptive.