PKK leader Öcalan’s jail restrictions not acceptable, says anti-torture group

Restrictions placed on outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan and a few other inmates at Turkey’s İmrali prison are not acceptable, the Council of Europe's anti-torture committee said on Wednesday.

The Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) urged for Öcalan, who is serving a life sentence, to be granted more outside contact and less solitary confinement.

The PKK leader, who was captured by Turkey in 1999 and has been jailed on treason charges since then, has been barred from meeting his legal representatives since 2011, with one exception, and has had only limited family visits since the collapse of a peace process between the state and the PKK in 2015.

Öcalan is joined by three fellow PKK-member inmates in İmrali in the Sea of Marmara off Istanbul.

All prisoners said they were treated "correctly" by prison warders, with no allegations of ill-treatment, while healthcare also appeared good, the CPT said in its report based on a 2019 visit to Turkey. 

But the regime the prisoners remained under had not improved "at all" since the last such visit in 2016, the report said.

Öcalan and three other prisoners were still only allowed to meet as a group for six hours per week, and in pairs for another three hours per week and association during daily outdoor exercise remained prohibited, it said.

"As a result, all prisoners were being held in solitary confinement for most of the time," the CPT said, underlining this amounted to 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."

Öcalan has received almost no family visits in recent years and requests for visits from his lawyers have been turned down since 2019, the report added.

Last month, the lawyers of PKK leader applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over years-long a contact ban with Öcalan.

The CPT also condemned prison conditions in Turkey, urging authorities to take “decisive action” against ill treatment at the hands of police.

Examining a “considerable number” of allegations it received from individuals taken into custody on the excessive use of force and physical ill treatment by police and gendarmerie officers, the CPT said the allegations were supported by medical evidence, including injuries documented in medical records or directly observed by the delegation’s medical experts.

Ankara maintains a policy of zero tolerance to torture, but reports of torture and mistreatment have increased substantially since 2015, when a peace process with the PKK broke down, and particularly after the failed coup attempt of 2016, when the government detained tens of thousands in an extensive crackdown on dissent.