imraliFollowing the publication of the EP’s resolution on the 2013 Turkey Progress Report, another European institution has put Turkey under the spotlight this week, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT). The CPT visited the island of Imrali in January 2013 and laid out their finding in a report, which is available to download here.

The CPT found that Abdullah Ocalan is being denied the same amount of open air time as the five other prisoners, and that he is not still allowed to have contact with them during his outdoor exercise despite earlier recommendations that this should be allowed. They add, “Out of a total of 168 hours per week, prisoners could stay outside their cells for up to 36 hours (22 for Abdullah Ocalan), but they were able to be in contact with other inmates for only 8 hours per week; in other words, they were being held in solitary confinement for 160 hours a week.”

The CPT goes on to say: “More generally, the CPT must stress once again that the regime applied to prisoners serving a sentence of aggravated life imprisonment suffers from a fundamental flaw and and should be revised not only at Imrali prison but in the prison system as a whole….as a matter of principle, the imposition of such a regime [of isolation] should not be the automatic consequence of the type of sentence imposed. The Committee wishes to stress that life-sentenced prisoners (as indeed all prisoners) are sent to prison as punishment and not to be punished within the prison.”

The report reveals the torturous levels of solitary confinement suffered by the prisoners, especially Ocalan. At one point in 2011, Ocalan was held in continuous cellular confinement for a total of 240 days as part of a disciplinary punishment, far exceeding the CPT’s owen recommendations to impose this kind of solitary on an inmate for just 14 days at a time. “Such a state of affairs is totally unacceptable”, the report concludes.

While other inmates are entitled to one 10-minute phone call every two weeks, Ocalan is denied access to a telephone and the CPT reiterates its earlier recommendation that he be allowed to speak with family on the phone. The report also discusses the issue of visits from lawyers, saying it is “a matter of grave concern” that Ocalan has not had a visit from any lawyer since 27 July 2011. This issues was apparently discussed by the CPT and Turkish authorities in high level-talks in June 2012:

“From these consultations and the related correspondence between the CPT and the Turkish authorities, it transpired that a policy decision had been taken by the Turkish Government to prevent Abdullah Öcalan, for the time being at least, from having meetings with his lawyers, since he was considered to have repeatedly abused his right of access to a lawyer. The CPT was also informed that more than 35 lawyers who had visited Abdullah Öcalan in recent years had been remanded in custody in November 2011 and were facing trial inter alia for having transmitted illicit messages to a terrorist organisation.

“In 2012, Abdullah Öcalan at some point indicated that he did not wish to receive visits from his lawyers, allegedly in order to protect them against any subsequent prosecution. That said, during the visit, Abdullah Öcalan indicated to the delegation that he would like to have consultations with his lawyers.

“The five other prisoners held at Imralı Prison had continuously refused to meet their lawyers since April 2011, allegedly in order to protest against the decision taken by the prison administration at that time to monitor and record their conversations with lawyers. At the time of the 2013 visit, some of the prisoners appeared to maintain their position, while others expressed their wish to meet their lawyers again.

“At the meeting with the Minister of Justice on 12 February 2013, the President of the CPT reiterated the Committee’s position that, whenever, in exceptional cases, access to a specific lawyer is denied on the grounds that he/she is allegedly being used as a means of transmitting instructions linked to terrorist or other criminal activities, access to another independent lawyer must be guaranteed. During the ensuing discussion, the Minister of Justice affirmed that the Turkish Government was actively working on a solution to the problem of access to a lawyer.

“With reference to Articles 3 and 10, paragraph 2, of the Convention, the CPT calls upon the Turkish authorities to take the necessary steps – without any further delay – to ensure that all prisoners at Imralı Prison are able, if they so wish, to receive visits from a lawyer.”

The full report is available to download here.