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Pro-Kurdish party MPs to seek ministry’s permission to meet with jailed PKK leader

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A group of lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (HEDEP) have announced that they will ask for permission from the Justice Ministry to meet with the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Mezopotamya news agency reported.

PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who was captured in Kenya by Turkey’s secret service in 1999, has been jailed in a high-security prison on İmralı Island in the Sea of Marmara since 1999, where he has been unable to see his lawyers and family members for several years.

The PKK, which has been waging a bloody campaign in Turkey’s southeast since 1984, is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.

HEDEP lawmakers issued a statement to the press in front of parliament on Thursday in which they complained about the restrictions Öcalan has been subjected to for several years.

The party’s co-spokesperson and İstanbul lawmaker Cengiz Çiçek said the party’s lawmakers would submit a petition to the Justice Ministry later on Thursday seeking its permission to meet with Öcalan. He said the HEDEP MPs want to meet with Öcalan to discuss a democratic solution for the settlement of Turkey’s longstanding Kurdish issue, adding that they think Öcalan will play “a critical, historical” role in the issue.

The Kurdish issue, a term prevalent in Turkey’s public discourse, refers to the demand for equal rights by the country’s Kurdish population and their struggle for recognition.

Turkey has been accused of denying its Kurdish citizens, which make up approximately 20 percent of its population, their political and cultural rights and pursuing policies aimed at their assimilation since the foundation of modern Turkey.

Çiçek said Öcalan had been able to see his lawyers only five times since 2011 and his family members five times since 2014. He said a brief phone call he was allowed to have with his brother, Mehmet Öcalan, in March 2021 was cut off by the authorities and lasted only for two and a half or three minutes.

At the time Mehmet Öcalan said his brother told him the government should allow him to visit with his lawyers and family in person in line with his rights.

The phone call took place at a time when there were rumors about Öcalan’s deteriorating health in prison.

HEDEP deputy group chairman Saruhan Oruç said neither his family nor his lawyers has been able to hear from Öcalan for 31 months, a situation he described as “inhumane” and contrary to domestic and international law.

He said two other inmates on İmralı Island have been subjected to the same restrictions as Öcalan, claiming there is no example of “absolute isolation” of inmates anywhere else in the world.

Three other inmates, who were also convicted on terrorism charges related to the PKK and had been given aggravated life sentences, were transferred to the island in March 2015.

Öcalan has been unable to meet with his lawyers since 2019, and their attempts to secure permission from Turkish authorities to visit him have been rejected.

The Turkish government held direct talks with Öcalan and the PKK as part of a peace process initiated in 2009, in a bid to end the country’s Kurdish conflict that has claimed more than 40,000 lives. The talks collapsed in 2015.

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