Asrin Law Office: Imrali is a black hole
“To overcome the Imrali isolation system in real terms can only be possible by ensuring the legal equality and freedom of Mr. Öcalan and the Kurdish people intertwined with him, like all other individuals and peoples,” says the Asrin Law Office.
The Asrin Law Office representing Kurdish People’s Leader Abdullah Öcalan has published its 2020 Imralı Prison Assessment Report.
The 31-point report contains details regarding the isolation system executed in the Imrali Island Prison where Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan is held alongside three other prisoners; Ömer Hayri Konar, Hamili Yıldırım and Veysi Aktaş.
The report highlights that the Turkish state tramples on international law as well, saying; “To overcome this system in real terms can only be possible by ensuring the legal equality and freedom of Mr. Öcalan and the Kurdish people intertwined with him, like all other individuals and peoples.”
Asrin Law Office called on all sensitive circles to contribute to the democratic struggle for law and justice.
The report includes the following:
1. The year 2020 was marked by a suspension of law for the clients in Imralı F Type High Security Closed Prison; Mr. Abdullah Öcalan, Mr. Hamili Yıldırım, Mr. Veysi Aktaş and Mr. Ömer Hayri Konar, who were mainly deprived of their right to meeting with lawyers and family members, right to phone, letter, fax and all kinds of communications. This situation constitutes an “Absolute Isolation” which means systematic torture beyond a violation of right(s). The Imrali Island Prison, where the “Torture Ban” is violated most intensely and deeply despite the pandemic circumstances put into effect with Covid-19/Coronavirus, is being turned into a sphere where doubts over the protection of the clients’ material and spiritual integrity is preserved are growing every passing day.
2. As is known, Mr. Öcalan had the opportunity to meet with his lawyers and family in Imrali Prison in 2019, although for a limited period of time. His opinions and evaluations were declared to the public afterwards. The popular pressure reaching the level of hunger strikes eventually conduced to breaking through the Imrali isolation to a limited extent. During this process, the related court decision that was cited as basis for the denial of Öcalan’s meeting with his family and lawyers, was halted upon judicial objection, and the Minister of Justice himself declared that there was no obstacle to lawyer and family meetings on Imrali. In addition, the CPT visit to the Imrali Prison, detailed in a report published in 2010, also took place during this period.
3. During these 5 meetings with lawyers and 3 meetings with family members in 2019, Mr. Öcalan once again presented his power and influence with regard to the democratization of the Middle East, especially the resolution of the Kurdish question. This situation enabled the growth of hope and the mentality which Mr. Öcalan defines as “Politics to Keep Alive” among all circles of the society who have been subjected to repeated disasters during the past five years. However, since the lawyer meeting on 7 August 2018 and the family meeting on 11 August 2019, there has been no chance of communication with Imrali.
4. On 15 February 2020, human rights organizations and legal organizations, together with politicians, called upon the officials to undertake responsibility in order to highlight the dimensions of the Imrali isolation system and to make sure that the devastation experienced in 2019 is not repeated. Likewise, over three thousand people went on hunger strike in various places around the world in 2019 to protest against the Imrali isolation system and the action was turned into death fast afterwards. 9 people put an end to their lives in the scope of the same protest. However, there has been no favorable development in 2020 when, furthermore, hunger strikes have been launched in prisons and Mrs. Leyla Güven was jailed once again.
5. The International Delegation for Imrali applied to the Ministry of Justice in 2020, as in the past years, to be granted permission to meet with Mr. Öcalan on Imrali Island. The delegation also visited Asrin Law Office and made public their outstanding determinations regarding the essence of the Imrali System. The delegation consisting of esteemed members Melinie Ann Gingell, Felix John Padel, Julie Ward, Shavanah Taj and Ögmundur Jónasson shared with the public their determinations of great importance on 17 February 2020. “Imrali is a laboratory of both repression and democracy. There is no trace of human rights in Imrali prison and the isolation affects the conditions of prisons in the entire country. At the same time, it is also possible that Imrali become a laboratory for the implementation of human rights all around Turkey. This does not go for Turkey alone, since Abdullah Öcalan’s ideas are of importance for the solution of the conflicts in the Middle East and worldwide.
Contacts with family members in 2020
6. In 2020, our clients on Imrali had two contacts with the outside world: a family visit on March 3 and a telephone conversation with his brother on April 27. These two contacts were also enforced by public pressure.
7. On February 27, the Turkish Interior Minister announced that a fire had broken out on Imrali. Then a family visit to the island took place on March 3. The telephone conversation on April 27 took place in the wake of general concern regarding the Coronavirus pandemic. It is the last contact that Mr. Öcalan and his fellow prisoners had with the outside world. In this conversation, Mr. Öcalan said of the unpredictable situation on Imrali: "At the moment I'm fine but I don't know what will be in the future."
Kurds as a stabilizing factor in Turkey
8. Despite the limited possibilities, Mr. Öcalan pointed out in both talks what he thinks about political and social developments and what he foresees for the future. These anticipations were proved to be right in the course of the year.
During the meeting on March 3, Mr. Öcalan stated that Turkey is like a table with two legs and the Kurds must be the third leg: "The table cannot stand on two legs, a third leg is necessary for that. Without the Kurds, it cannot stay on its feet. The Turkish state also knows this but it is trying to create Kurds who are agreeable to itself. And that didn’t work, it would not work ever."
In the telephone conversation on April 27, he pointed out that the Kurds are being incited against each other. Remarking that an inter-Kurdish conflict would benefit neither the Kurdish people nor the population of Turkey, he warned: "No political organization should fall into the trap of thinking that it can become stronger through an inter-Kurdish war and be granted its own state.” He said this message was directed at all sides: "Neither the Kurds nor the Middle East have any need for a new war and further bloodshed. There is a need for peace and unity."
The CPT report and the Imrali regime's response
9. On August 5, 2020, the CPT Anti-Torture Committee published a report on the situation in Imrali Island Prison. The report stems from visits to Turkish detention facilities in May 2019. The report which describes the system and isolation at Imrali as unacceptable includes the following:
“As a result, all prisoners were being held in solitary confinement for most of the time (i.e. 159 hours out of 168 hours per week, including 24 hours per day at weekends). In the Committee’s view, such a state of affairs is not acceptable. The CPT calls upon the Turkish authorities to take steps without further delay to ensure that all prisoners held at Imralı Prison are allowed to associate together during daily outdoor exercise, as well as during all other out-of-cell activities.
The CPT once again calls upon the Turkish authorities to carry out a complete overhaul of the detention regime applied to prisoners sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment in Turkish prisons, in the light of the precepts set out in paragraphs 82 to 84 of the report on the 2013 visit.25 To this end, the relevant legislation should be amended accordingly.
The CPT urges the Turkish authorities to take the necessary steps to ensure that all prisoners at Imralı Prison are effectively able, if they so wish, to receive visits from their relatives and lawyers. To this end, an end should be put to the practice of imposing a ban on family visits for ‘disciplinary’ reasons.
Further, the Committee requests the Turkish authorities to provide – on a monthly basis – an account of the visits which all prisoners held at Imralı Prison have received from their family members and lawyers.”
10. In October 2020, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a resolution on the repression of the opposition in Turkey. The resolution also called for an end to the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan.
11. Until April 19, a court order was cited as justification for the ban on lawyer talks on Imrali. Since then, no visitation request has been answered except for the five talks that have taken place.
12. Visitation requests by the relatives and the legal counsel team were rejected in 2019 with reference to imposed disciplinary sanctions in the copy-paste procedure. In 2020, the first three requests were rejected with reference to the last disciplinary sanction imposed in 2019. As of January 20, 2020, visitation requests were no longer responded to.
13. After the publication of the CPT report, three different prohibition orders on visits and telephone contacts with legal counsel and family members were suddenly presented in September 2020. This response to the CPT’s report further exacerbated the isolation.
Unanswered and rejected visitation requests
14. In 2020, no visit request from the legal counsel for Imrali was answered as of September 23. Since September 25, client meetings have been prevented with reference to a six-month prohibition order issued by the enforcement judge in Bursa. This order was also written in copy-paste method.
15. The situation is similar with regard to applications for visits by family members.
16. None of the 96 visitation requests submitted by the legal counsel in 2020 were granted. 68 were not answered at all, and 28 requests were rejected with reference to prohibition orders. Of 50 requests for family visitation, 40 were not answered and nine were rejected. One request was accepted.
Right to communication
17. Communication with prisoners on Imrali became even more important due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Asrin Law Office filed various applications for communication facilities with its clients and went to the Turkish Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for an interim injunction. The urgent applications were rejected, and the application on the merits is still pending.
18. Prisoners on Imrali were able to exercise their right to telephone communication for the first time on April 27, 2020. These calls, limited to twenty minutes, were a first in the history of the prison island, but it was also the last contact with Imrali.
19. In 2020, permission was requested over a hundred times for attorney and family telephone conversations.
20. Letter communication also couldn’t be enforced in 2020. The legal office sent 30 letters to its clients, where they ended up is unknown. There is no information from Imrali at all.
Legal proceedings and trial practice
21. Imrali prison constitutes a legal black hole in its fullest sense. At certain intervals new practices are introduced that are not subject to legal control. In the past, contacts with Imrali were justified by defective coaster and bad weather, but today there are orders from the disciplinary committee or courts that are copy-pasted.
22. The legal counsel of Imrali prisoners does not have full access to files; recently, the legal office does not even have access to the file numbers of ongoing proceedings. Legal isolation is intended to make the situation on Imrali a permanent condition.
23. Legal counsel also gets nowhere with higher-level legal bodies and supervisory bodies. The enforcement system on Imrali is not subject to any legal control. In the scope of an international concept, the island has been declared a lawless area. In its judgment of May 12, 2005, the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR stated that Abdullah Öcalan's trial in Turkey did not take place before an independent and impartial court and that his right to defense was violated. According to the ruling, the trial must be reopened. In Turkey, a new trial was initiated pro forma, but a new trial did not take place. Nevertheless, the ECtHR and the responsible Council of Ministers recognized the measure as a first step. This legally questionable compromise currently leads to the fact that the judgments of the ECtHR, which are binding for all members of the Council of Europe, are disregarded in several proceedings in Turkey.
There have been also no developments regarding the ECtHR ruling of March 18, 2014, that a prison sentence imposed until physical death without hope of release constitutes a violation of human rights. This situation leads to the introduction of thousands of new provisions in the Turkish penitentiary system.
24. With regard to the ban on Öcalan's books, the Turkish Constitutional Court ruled in June 2014 that this violated his freedom of thought and expression. Despite this ruling, subordinate bodies issued further bans. The principle of the binding nature of rulings by the Constitutional Court was thus overridden, which is visible in many similar proceedings today. These examples show that the specific action against Öcalan is not limited to Imrali and encompasses Turkey's entire legal system.
25. The fact that court rulings are not implemented, and other legal procedures are also kept in a permanent loop encourages the responsible bodies to act unlawfully. An application against isolation filed with the ECtHR in 2011 is still pending. This is a concrete example of the current situation. The Imrali no-contact policy has continued in an arbitrary manner for 21 years, despite the aforementioned CPT reports.
26. In 2020, the Asrin Law Office, in addition to the ongoing proceedings before regional courts related to its clients on Imrali, filed 19 applications before the Constitutional Court and one before the ECtHR. At the end of the year, 39 files were present before the Constitutional Court and 7 before the ECtHR. The provisions arising from the 2014 ECtHR ruling remain unfulfilled.
27. Imrali Island Prison remains subject to a specific status. The isolation and torture system is based on the unlawful actions not only of the Turkish judiciary but also of the international legal system. It is the responsibility of the Council of Europe to ensure the implementation of the decisions of the ECtHR and the CPT. The Imrali system could only be established with the consent or total disregard of international institutions.
28. The Imrali system reflects the policy on the Kurdish question. A democratic solution to the Kurdish question as one of the main problems in the Middle East is rejected by powers that profit from the state of war. With his democratic model of society, Mr. Öcalan has presented a solution to the nation-state conflicts that have been going on for centuries, a solution that is lived by the Kurdish people together with their neighboring peoples.
29. The Imrali system is intended to isolate the solution model presented by Mr. Öcalan. It cannot be overlooked that Öcalan has persistently advocated a democratic solution at every possible opportunity. Every contact with him has proven this.
30. In another important development in 2020, an international action group proclaimed October 10 as the “Global Day for the Freedom of Abdullah Öcalan”. Kurds and like-minded people around the world called for his freedom.
31. In order to overcome the isolation system on Imrali, the universal rights to which every human being is entitled must be recognized above all. Communication with lawyers and relatives must be allowed to take place and the isolation measures must be lifted. However, to overcome this constantly renewing and reproducing system in real terms can only be possible by ensuring the legal equality and freedom of Mr. Öcalan and the Kurdish people intertwined with him, like all other individuals and peoples. The Asrin Law Office calls for contribution to this struggle for law and justice.”