Turkish gov’t could allow visits to jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan

Abdullah Öcalan, the founder of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), could be allowed to meet with his lawyers again soon, following some two years of near-absolute state of non-communication.

The suggestion was brought forth by pro-Turkish government columnist Abdülkadir Selvi, in an article published on Friday.

The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish leftwing party that is the second-largest opposition bloc in Turkey, has been campaigning for Öcalan to be allowed visits for a long time. Most recently, the party held a march protesting what they call the absolute isolation conditions of the PKK leader on June 12.

Öcalan has been held in a prison on the İmralı island, off the coast of northwestern Bursa province, since his capture and trial in 1999. He was convicted to life in prison over charges of treason, and would have received the death sentence if Turkey had not done away with capital punishment as part of its European Union compatibility reforms.

The PKK has been engaged in armed conflict with Turkey for some four decades, and is designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the EU and the United States. The HDP is facing a lawsuit to shut the party down and ban its top officials from politics over alleged ties to the PKK.

“HDP has discovered Öcalan again,” Selvi wrote. According to the columnist, HDP had turned away from the PKK leader during the 2019 local elections, when he advised against Kurds supporting opposition candidates. However, HDP’s tactic of not putting up its own candidates in major Turkish provinces and mobilising its voter base towards candidates running against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) resulted in Ekrem İmamoğlu winning in Istanbul by a landslide, ending more than two decades of conservative rule in the megacity.

“The rumour is that Öcalan will be allowed to meet with one person from his family to end the tensions riled up by the PKK-HDP who allege that Öcalan is under isolation,” Selvi said.

HDP deputy Ömer Öcalan, Abdullah Öcalan’s nephew, could be the person allowed to visit him, according to Selvi. “I do not know if it will be a one-time thing or continue on a regular basis. But the important thing is Öcalan’s messages to (the PKK) and the HDP.”

“I do not believe there are any political expectations behind allowing Öcalan to meet with his family,” he said. “There is no meaning behind this other than an attempt to prevent the abuse of Öcalan.”

Throughout his more than two decades spent in the İmralı Prison, Öcalan was not allowed to communicate with the outside world very regularly, except for the peace process between Turkey and the PKK that was in place from spring 2013 to summer 2015. During the peace talks, regular meetings with Öcalan were held inside the prison with attendance from a HDP delegation and state officials.

“The isolation imposed upon Öcalan is a crime against humanity,” a HDP official told daily Birgün on condition of anonymity. “Öcalan must be allowed to meet with his family and lawyers.”

According to the official, the HDP is confident that any message from Öcalan could not lure very many Kurdish voters towards the AKP, especially as the ruling party polls at its lowest since it came to power 20 years ago.

“We expect the government’s interest in Öcalan to increase as the elections draw near. However, Kurds need no orders,” the HDP official said. Turkey’s next parliamentary and presidential elections are scheduled for June 2023.

HDP is not an official part of the opposition’s six-way alliance between centre-left, centre-right and moderate conservative parties including AKP breakaways, but is expected to support the opposition in the presidential election, provided the candidate is not a name the party would fundamentally object to.

As AKP loses support among the people and Turkey’s military operations against Syrian and Iraqi Kurds continue, the government needs Öcalan to call for neutrality once again, the official said. “But like the letter incident of 2019, the AKP and MHP alliance will not get what they want.”

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