PKK leader's lawyers say de facto visitation ban still in place after Turkey announces end of restrictions

Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül has announced the end of eight years of restrictions preventing jailed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan from meeting his lawyers, Turkish pro-government daily Yeni Şafak reported on Thursday.

“The meeting restrictions have been lifted, and he is now able to meet visitors”, Yeni Şafak quoted Gül as saying at a press conference after meeting representatives from the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture.

Gül’s statement’s reportedly came after the committee members performed an inspection of conditions at the prison island of İmralı, where Öcalan has been held since his capture in 1999.

However, Öcalan’s lawyers have denied that restrictions have been lifted in practice. Kurdish news agency ANF quoted lawyer Mazlum Dinç as saying Öcalan’s team had been informed about the lifting of the restrictions on April 22, but besides one visit a de facto ban has remained in place.

Öcalan met his lawyers earlier this month for the first time in eight years, a period during which his meetings with family members were also severely restricted.

The Turkish authorities view Öcalan’s PKK, whose separatist insurrection in 1984 sparked a bloody decades-long conflict, as a terrorist organisation. But for many Kurds, he is the symbolic leader of a political movement that spans predominantly Kurdish areas in Turkey and three neighbouring countries.

In January, Öcalan was allowed his first meeting in 28 months with his brother, Mehmet Öcalan, after politicians from Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic (HDP) launched a hunger strike demanding the restoration of his visitation rights.

The hunger strike has continued since then, and its leader, HDP deputy Leyla Güven, was taken to her home in critical condition in February. In April, the Human Rights Association of Turkey estimated that some 3,000 prisoners had joined the hunger strike.