French NGO MRAP concerned about Turkey’s treatment of Kurds and political prisoners

The Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between Peoples invited the OHCHR to revisit Turkey, in particular the Kurdish-majority southeast and İmralı.


The Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between Peoples (MRAP), a French non-governmental organization (NGO), has written to the Secretary-General of the United Nations Human Rights Council, calling on the organization to take action to halt Turkey’s deteriorating human rights record, to immediately release all political prisoners and to end the country’s treatment of Kurds.

MRAP highlighted the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report from 10 March 2017 which “expressed its deep concern at the significant deterioration of the human rights situation” in southeast Turkey. “The report noted the use of counter-terrorism legislation to remove from office democratically elected officials of Kurdish origin, the severe curtailment and harassment of independent journalists; the closure of independent and Kurdish language media and citizens’ associations; and the massive dismissals of civil servants on unclear grounds and without due process.”

A second report from OHCHR a year later noted “the deterioration of the domestic human rights situation and the shrinking of the political and civic space,” and called on Turkey to be compliant with international human rights laws.

Elections in Turkey

“In recent years, before and after every election, the Turkish government has engaged in repressive and anti-democratic practices against media workers, artists, politicians and lawyers,” MRAP said in their letter.

Highlighting how these “repressive policies are most widespread in the Kurdish-dominated south-east of the country”, MRAP noted that 128 people were arrested before the 14 May 2023 parliamentary elections.

Similarly, multiple arrests were made both before and after the recent municipal elections on 31 March 2024.

The NGO highlighted the many attempts of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)-Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) alliance to subvert Turkey’s elections, with members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy (DEM) Party detained in the lead up to the municipal elections, soldiers brought in to vote in Kurdish-majority areas, ballot boxes destroyed and pro-Kurdish mayors being deposed in favour of trustee mayors from the ruling parties.

Suppression of Kurdish voices continued after the elections, as highlighted by MRAP, with journalists of Mezopotamya News Agency and Yeni Yaşam newspaper detained in April and DEM Party members detained in May.

Political prisoners and İmralı

MRAP also reported on the ongoing conditions in İmralı Island Prison, where Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan and three others are imprisoned in solitary confinement. Öcalan has been imprisoned for over 25 years, most of which has been in isolation. He has been held completely incommunicado for over three years, with no lawyer or family visits. He has not been heard from since an interrupted phone call with his brother in March 2021.

“One of the most perverse forms of torture is solitary confinement. Since 24 March 2021, there has been no news of Abdullah Öcalan (transferred to Imrali prison on 15 February 1999) … [as well as] Veysi Aktas, Mehmet Sait Yildirim and Omer Hayri Konar (transferred to the same prison in 2015),” MRAP said.

Highlighting the ongoing repression of Kurdish voices in Turkey, MRAP noted that “More than 100 Kurdish political prisoners have not been released due to postponements,” reportedly due to their behaviour in prison.

In concluding its call to the UN, MRAP invited the OHCHR to revisit Turkey, in particular the Kurdish-majority southeast and İmralı. They also called on the Special Rapporteur on Torture to “follow up” on the mission of its predecessor from 2016, and for the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism to “engage in dialogue with the Turkish government” to end the racism endured by Kurds in the country.