Lawyer Bilmez: The CPT confirms isolation in Imrali is deepening

Kurdish people's leader Abdullah Öcalan's lawyer Ibrahim Bilmez spoke about the CPT report on Imrali.

Ibrahim Bilmez, one of the lawyers of Kurdish people's leader Abdullah Öcalan, commented to ANF the report published by the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) about its visit to Imrali Prison in 2019.

Emphasizing that the report confirms that the isolation imposed in Imrali is getting heavier, Bilmez said that it will be interesting to see what the government will respond to the CPT, that requests monthly information on the lawyer and family visits.

The CPT published its report on its visit to Imralı Island in 2019. How do you evaluate the content of this report and its late publication?

The CPT's visit to Imrali in May 2019 was the eighth visit to the prison since 15 February 1999. As expected after each visit, it published a monitoring report containing observations, evaluations and recommendations. Unfortunately, we had to wait a long time for the report to be published after each visit. On occasion we had to wait two years after the visit before being able to see the report. During our meetings with the CPT, we asked them to speed up this publication process. We can say that one of the reasons for the delays is due to the institutional operating procedures of the CPT.

Namely, the CPT pays a visit to a member state of the Council of Europe. It then prepares a report on this visit and sends it to the relevant government before sharing it with the public. The CPT waits for the government’s responses to the recommendations and criticisms contained in its report. The critical point here is that the CPT cannot share this report with the public without the consent of the relevant state. The second reason for the delay can be ascribed to the attitude and sincerity of the relevant state about which a report has been written. Turkey is a rogue country at this point! We are talking about a behaviour to which lawyers are constantly confronted with. They know very well that arbitrariness, insincerity and distraction by constantly postponing what needs to be done is almost a policy. And Turkey has been implementing this policy on a regular way also with the CPT.

As we have seen in this last report, the CPT always transmit important findings in its reports as well as recommendations and criticisms. But we also know very well that nothing has improved in Imrali for 21 years. On the contrary, there is a constant regression in all fundamental rights. Turkey is throwing endless judicial and administrative problems into the blind pit of legislation, namely laws, regulations and circulars. It tries to get things out of the way by drowning in endless correspondence and bureaucracy. The point we constantly criticize is that the CPT has not been able to recognize this modus operandi for 21 years or has ignored it. This lack of criticism has enabled Turkey to get away with this lawlessness for the past 21 years.

Undoubtedly, in the last report published, there are very important findings, criticisms and even demands made by the CPT to the Turkish government. First of all, the report confirms the isolation imposed on Imrali in general and says that this isolation is deepening by the day, as we have always said. Secondly, perhaps for the first time, the CPT requests monthly information from the government about the lawyer and family visits. And we now look forward to see what the government will tell the CPT on a monthly basis. The critical point here is whether the CPT will allow the style, politics we just mentioned, to go on. Because we know very well that the government will do its best to keep this on the air, as it has done for 21 years. After all, we face the reality of a state that has officially lied for years and denied visits by saying ‘the boat is broken’, ‘there is bad weather’ or ‘the boat’s captain is sick’ every week. And actually the CPT knows this fact very well.

The important thing is whether the CPT will allow these policies and this behaviour to continue. We shall wait and see. For example, the report finally reveals the absurdity of the disciplinary penalties imposed ad the grounds for the rejection of family visits to Mr. Öcalan and our three other clients. In the CPT report, it was found unacceptable and unconvincing that our clients could meet very little for sport, for talking among themselves.

Again, in its latest report, the CPT once again identified and emphasized the need to review and change the enforcement regime of aggravated life imprisonment. The European Court of Human Rights had already ruled in 2014 that the sentence against Mr. Öcalan was a violation of the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment regulated in Article 3 of the ECHR and that the regime of aggravated life imprisonment should be changed.

Despite all the applications and initiatives taken to push Turkey to implement this decision, Turkey has so far taken no steps in this regard. Moreover, the Committee of Ministers is the only official institution that is responsible for the execution of the ECtHR rulings and has the authority to do so. Turkey has been using the same delaying tactics we were talking about before.

As a result, as I said is no longer sufficient to ask Turkey to end this behaviour, it is important to show a firmer stand.

You sent an emergency call to the CPT regarding the situation of your client, Öcalan, who is in the serious risk group in terms of age and health. How do you evaluate the fact that the CPT never mentioned the pandemic with at least one additional article in the 2019 report it shared?

Since this latest report published by the CPT concern the May 2019 visit, it may be understandable that technically, the pandemic was not addressed. However, we would still expect the information to be included in order to eliminate justified concerns we and the Kurdish public have as to the coronavirus and how it affects Imrali. Since the isolation continues and we could not hear from our clients in any way, our demands and our call to the CPT in our report dated 17 April 2020, addressed the Covid-19 outbreak and it’s still valid. In a short time, we will send our new report on the developments in Imrali to tha CPT and reiterate our demands. Here again, the CPT stance on requiring the monthly reports from Turkey will be important.

Well, do you have any information about whether the CPT will visit Imrali in 2020?

We do not have any information on whether the CPT will visit Imrali in 2020. But since 15 months have passed since the last visit, we can say that a new visit is due especially taking into account the current pandemic situation.

Do you want to add anything, or do you have a call to issue?

Isolation in Imrali is a lawlessness which concerns the entire society in Turkey. We recall that the solution of the Kurdish problem is seen almost as a litmus paper for Turkey's democratization. Therefore, we call on all democratic people to be sensitive to the isolation in Imrali, and we urge everybody to organise democratic responses demanding to end this situation.