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PKK leader’s jail restrictions ‘not acceptable’: European anti-torture group

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Restrictions imposed on Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and a handful of other inmates at a Turkish island prison are not acceptable, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) said Wednesday, urging that he be granted more outside contact and less solitary confinement, AFP reported.

Öcalan, who was initially sentenced to death after his capture by Turkey in 1999 and then to life imprisonment, is jailed on the island of İmralı in the Sea of Marmara off İstanbul.

According to the anti-torture committee’s report on a 2019 visit to Turkey, which included rare access to İmralı, he is one of just four prisoners on the island.

The CPT spoke to all prisoners and said they were treated “correctly” by prison guards, with no allegations of ill-treatment, while healthcare also appeared good.

But it said the regime the prisoners were under had not improved “at all” since the last such visit in 2016.

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

“As a result, all prisoners were being held in solitary confinement for most of the time,” it said, noting this amounted to 159 hours out of 168 hours per week, including 24 hours per day on the weekends.

“In the committee’s view, such a state of affairs is not acceptable.”

The CPT lamented an almost total absence of family visits in recent years to Öcalan and the turning down of requests for visits from his lawyers since 2019.

“A balance must be struck between such security considerations and the basic human rights of the prisoners concerned,” it said, calling for a “sustainable system” of regular visits by family members and lawyers at İmralı.

Ocalan was captured in 1999 by Turkey’s secret service in Kenya and sentenced to death, although the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 2002 when Turkey abolished the death penalty.

The PKK, regarded as a terrorist group by Turkey, the EU and United States, has since 1984 waged an insurrection for greater rights for the Kurdish minority that has left tens of thousands dead. 

It declared a ceasefire in 2013, but this collapsed two years later. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has ruled out any new dialogue.

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