Lawyers in Turkey demand end of PKK leader Öcalan’s lawyer visit ban

Lawyers organized a press statement on Jan. 23 in front of the Diyarbakır Courthouse in southeastern Turkey to demand the end of the 34-month-long contact ban imposed on the imprisoned Workers’ Party of Kurdistan (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan on İmralı Island.

Duvar English

Lawyers from Turkey organized a press statement on Jan. 23 in front of the Diyarbakır Courthouse in southeastern Turkey about the application made to the Justice Ministry demanding to lift the contact ban imposed on the imprisoned Workers’ Party of Kurdistan (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan.

Some 1330 lawyers from 35 bar associations, Lawyers for Freedom (ÖHD), and Progressive Lawyers Association (ÇHD) of Turkey signed the application that demanded to lift Öcalan’s contact ban. The leader of the outlawed PKK has been prevented from meeting with his lawyers since 2019, which the lawyers called a violation of international human rights declarations. 

Deputies from the pro-Kurdish People’s Equality and Democracy (DEM) Party, and representatives from Turkey’s lawyers’ associations joined the press statement, according to reporting by the Mesopotamia Agency. 

ÖHD co-chair Ekin Yeter drew attention to the unlawfulness of the contact ban while reading the joint statement. Since 2011, authorities allowed Öcalan to meet with his lawyers only five times in 2019, according to the statement. 

Yeter quoted the 2020 report by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), which defined Öcalan’s status as an “absolute incommunicado detention.”  

The CPT report concluded that banning lawyer visits by Turkish authorities was “unacceptable” and a violation of human rights conventions. 

Yeter added that prohibiting Öcalan’s lawyers from visiting İmralı Prison violated the Law on Execution of Sentences. “Governments are responsible for securing its prisoners’ rights without regard to their identities and sentences,” said Yeter, and added that Turkey was not exempt from the responsibility. 

Lawyers made a similar application in 2022 addressed to a Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office and the İmralı Prison administration but did not receive a response. In the same year, over 1.000 lawyers from 22 countries applied to the Turkish Justice Ministry to visit the four prisoners on İmralı Island and demanded an end to their unlawful isolation. These applications were likewise unanswered. 

Yeter continued that lawyers must be allowed to perform their duties and meet their clients without any “oppression, inhibition, harassment, or corruption” according to local and international law principles.

PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan has been kept in isolation for 24 years in F Type High-Security Prison on İmralı Island in Bursa, serving a life sentence. 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.

On December 2023, the Turkish Parliament’s Human Rights Investigation Commission vaguely stated the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy (DEM) Party’s application to visit Öcalan could be approved “if it was deemed appropriate.”