Jailed PKK leader meets lawyers for first time since 2011

Updated with new information

Jailed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan's lawyers met their client for the first time in more than seven years after a hunger strike began to protest his isolation, pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya news agency reported on Monday.

The lawyers met Öcalan on May 2 and held a press briefing on the discussions at 3 p.m. local time (GMT+2) on Monday. 

Lawyers of Öcalan, who also represent three other inmates of the island prison, said during the press conference that there had been violations of their clients' constitutional rights.

The meeting with Öcalan took place on May 2, 2019, after 810 attempts to contact the clients were rejected by the Turkish state, lawyers said. The meeting last week marked the end of years of restriction, but the lawyers added it is not yet clear whether further meetings will be allowed.

"With all respect to the resistance of friends inside and outside of prisons, we want to emphasise that they should not bring it (hunger strike) to a level risking their health or resulting in death," read the statement handed to lawyers by Öcalan, co-signed by the three other prisoners.

A social reconciliation is "more necessary than ever" and Öcalan stands more firmly behind the statements of the Newroz Declaration of March 2013, in which he called on PKK fighters to cease fire and withdraw from Turkish soil as a step towards ending a conflict that has killed 40,000 people, polarised the country and battered its economy, the statement said.

In the letter, Öcalan also called on the Syrian Democratic Forces, an umbrella north Syrian organisation which has been partnering with the United States and Coalition forces to defeat the Islamic State, "to take Turkey's sensitivities into account". Öcalan went on to advise the Syrian Kurdish organisation "to reach a solution with the constitutional protection in the perspective of the local democracy within the framework of the integrity of Syria." 

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

Initiated by pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmaker Leyla Güven, some 3,000 Kurdish prisoners, including a number of HDP lawmakers, started a hunger strike in November to protest the isolation of Öcalan. Hunger strikers in Turkey traditionally refuse prison food, but take vitamins and sugar solutions to help keep themselves alive.

Öcalan’s meeting with his lawyers also came after many Kurds voted against the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) in local elections on March 31, contributing to AKP defeats in several large cities including Istanbul.

While Turkey recognises the PKK as a terrorist organisation along with the European Union and the U.S., the People Protection Units (YPG) is considered to be the backbone of the SDF and is not recognised as a terrorist organisation by the Western or Eastern countries.

Turkey's relations with the SDF is complicated due to its affiliation with the YPG. PYD spokesperson and former co-chair Salih Muslim told Ahvalpod last week that the U.S. Special envoy for Syria, Ambassador James Jeffrey is acting as the mediator between the Syrian Kurdish authorities and Ankara.