Thursday, January 18, 2007


“I am starting a hunger strike for the abolishment of isolation in prisons. I am on a hunger strike for the right to life in a country where law and justice have are being destroyed”
~ Behic Asci.

First, some good news for the Kurdish Freedom Movement, from Reuters:

EU court clears way for PKK terror-list challenge

LUXEMBOURG, Jan 18 (Reuters) - The European Union's top court ruled on Thursday that the brother of jailed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan had the right to fight the inclusion of the group on the EU's terrorist list.

This was the second legal success in weeks for a group challenging the EU terrorist list. A lower court recently annulled an EU decision freezing the funds of an exiled Iranian opposition group, the People's Mujahideen.

The European Court of Justice ruled a lower court was wrong in 2005 to dismiss a lawsuit by Osman Ocalan seeking to have the PKK removed from the list requiring EU states to freeze an organisation's assets.

It ordered the Court of First Instance, the EU's second most senior court, to re-examine the case.

"The Court of First Instance wrongly deduced from examination of Mr Ocalan's statements that the PKK no longer existed and could thus no longer be represented by him," the higher court ruling said.

"The Court of Justice concluded that Mr Ocalan is acting validly on behalf of the PKK and can also instruct lawyers to represent it."

The PKK case is politically sensitive because Turkish nationalists accuse Brussels of promoting Kurdish separatism by insisting on cultural rights such as broadcasting and schooling in the Kurdish language as conditions for EU membership.

The Turkish government blames the PKK for more than 30,000 deaths since the group launched an armed struggle for a Kurdish homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984. Attacks have increased since the PKK called off a unilateral ceasefire in 2004.

The United States, like the European Union, blacklists the PKK as a terrorist organisation.

After the ruling in the Iranian case last month, the EU Council's Secretariat, representing member states, said it would consider appealing on points of law to the higher European Court of Justice.

It played down the implications, saying the court had not annulled the regulation establishing the terrorism list, or other persons or entities named on it.

The Dutch office of the Al Aqsa Foundation, a group with alleged ties to the Palestinian militant group Hamas, is also challenging inclusion on the terrorist list.

It argues, like The People's Mujahideen, that EU member states erred in not giving the reasons for their decision, depriving the group of a chance to defend itself.

More on that from the IHT and from Al-Jazeera.

At the end of November, 2006, a US federal court in Los Angeles struck down portions of Executive Order 13224 because the order's designation of "specially-designated global terrorists" was vague and permitted no recourse for those labeled as "terrorists" to challenge their inclusion on The List. The ruling came as a result of a challenge by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of the LTTE and the PKK. More on that from December.

The ruling by the EU Court of Justice should not only set the stage for the PKK to challenge the freezing of assets, but also to challenge the "terrorist" designation by the EU. It was Serok Apo's desire to bring the case of the Kurdish people and the Turkish state to a European court so that the atrocities committed by Turkey against the Kurdish people would be brought to the attention of the world. It was through this means that Serok Apo hoped to begin a political process that would lead to peace:

Mr Öcalan [ . . . ] expressed his belief in the basic principles and democratic safeguards of the European Union. For example, his statement to the exile publication Özgür Politika on 16 January 1999 is worded as follows:

“I believe that a concept of law as expressed in the legal framework of the European Union should be developed for the Kurdish question and I have expressed according demands. I wish to underline [our demand] that a legal commission founded on the principles of the European Union should go on fact-finding and research missions in Kurdistan and, if necessary, an international court should be established.”

Mr Öcalan repeatedly made clear that he was prepared to stand trial before such an international court himself under the sole condition that Turkey be tried, too. But his hopes and demands were not met.

Now, eight years later, it appears that the PKK is poised to bring the case of the Kurdish people to a European court.

In other legal news--and only six years late--it appears that, in spite of continued government opposition, there will be some kind of investigation into the infamous prison massacres of December, 2000, known as "Operation Return to Life," from Bianet:

Istanbul regional administrative court gives way for an investigation into security forces' operation in prison facilities in December 19, 2000, which left 32 people dead.

The court overturned the governorships rejection for an administrative investigation for a third time.

The security operation, ironically named "Return to Life", was aimed at breaking resistance of political prisoners against the new F-type facilities.

Activists and NGO reports say gross human rights violations were committed during the operations.

Before and after the operations 122 people died in hunger strike, protesting the isolation of convicts in F-type facilities. Lawyer Behic Asci still continues his hunger strike.

While the government is still resistant to act for improving the conditions in facilities, several members of the cabinet met with the demanders in recent days for a solution.

The prisoners involved in these massacres were not your run-of-the-mill criminals; when run-of-the-mill criminals in Turkey are tried and sentenced for 10, 20, or more years, they are granted general amnesties after a few years and are back on the street. Not so with political prisoners. Political prisoners can be detained in remand custody for 10 years--meaning that they can be held in custody that long before they come to trial. In the mid- to late 1990s, Turkey wanted to introduce American style (F-type) prisons for political prisoners, which would isolate them in small cells. Previously, Turkish prisons were "barracks" style, and prisoners were allowed to mix freely with each other, support each other, educate each other. This was a means of survival. Human Rights Watch has documented the routine in an F-type prison:

Small group isolation is a regime whereby prisoners remain in their cells, shared with from two to five other inmates, for lengthy periods of time with no other human contact and little or no possibility for activities, proper exercise, or educational programs. In fact, most prisoners held under the Anti-Terror Law at Kartal Special Type Prison typically sit in their cell for twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, with only the possibility of a half-hour family visit once a week.

[ . . . ]

Prisoners reported that on arrival at Kartal they were held for two weeks or more in solitary confinement before being transferred to cells holding up to six people. The cells are not spacious, but provide room for bunks, atable, a shower, and a toilet. Although there is no natural light within the cell, a door leads into a high walled courtyard with an estimated area of sixteen square meters to which the prisoners seem to have more or less unrestricted access. Photographs confirm that the prison has few if any external windows. The door from the corridor to the cell is kept closed night and day.

Prisoners rarely see human beings other than their cell-mates and rarely if ever leave their cell. Prisoners' families and former prisoners reported that meals are usually delivered under or through the door. Although some cells are permitted to have a television or radio, no facilities are provided for proper exercise or sport, and no access is provided to a library or canteen. Therefore, apart from weekly family visits lasting half an hour, prisoners have no social-or even visual-contact with any person outside their cell.

What is such confinement like for the political prisoners in Turkish F-type prisons? Again, from HRW:

The family of Yunus Çalis, who was seventeen when first imprisoned at Kartal Special Type Prison in April 1999, said that he had become very depressed and withdrawn, and that he told them: "I feel as if I am in a grave here-the only way out is to join a hunger strike or burn myself."

Gursel Avci, charged with membership of an illegal armed Islamist organization, wrote to Human Rights Watch:

For those in solitary confinement, life in the cell is like death. The [prison authorities] are doing this in order to induce psychological crisis. For those in groups of three or four the situation is not much different in the long term. The yard is very small, airless, and does not see the sun for most of the time. Getting out for half an hour once a week for your visit is like a festival. Those from other cities, without visitors, do not leave these unhealthy conditions for months on end. The prison is just steel and concrete. There is no opportunity for sport or walking. Sports equipment is forbidden ...The saz [a stringed musical instrument] is forbidden.

Ali Osman Zor, who, according to his lawyer, has been in solitary confinement since January 2000, wrote: "Your senses of taste, smell, hearing, feeling, and sight fade. You cannot laugh at anything and you cry at the smallest thing." Zor expressed his sense of vulnerability, stating: "Isolating a person takes away all their sense of personal security... You feel that you could be killed at any moment. Of course, their aim is to encourage that fear and to urge you to suicide or at least to break you psychologically."

Here's a short video with some scenes from the "Operation Return to Life" massacres:

This is why political prisoners in Turkey protested the move to F-type prisons, using death fasts as a means of protest. Many of the prisoners involved with the "Operation Return to Life" massacres were in the midst of their death fasts and, therefore, in a weakened condition. Claims by the Turkish government that it only used necessary force are lies. A dossier of the massacres can be found here.

The isolation of prisoners in the F-type prison creates an environment that allows the Turkish state to take full advantage of the torture of prisoners--something for which the Turkish state is renowned--and to get away with murder, in the literal sense.

Here's more on the situation, from Desmond Fernandes:

Even as the Blair government and Bush administration have continued, post-9/11, to vigorously endorse the initiatives of the Turkish state in its ‘War on Terror’, Behic Asci, a member of the Turkish Association of Progressive Lawyers, has sought to alert people to the repercussions of ’‘’these highly questionable types of activities, which are never mentioned by Bush’s or Blair’s aides publicly: “The Turkish legal system provides no protection for … political prisoners [many of whom have been questionably charged with ‘terrorist offences’] held in isolation. In one instance, when a guard demanded one of Asci’s clients stand up for a prisoner count, she responded that given [that] she was in an isolation cell, there was no need for her to stand to be counted. Enraged at this small show of defiance, the guard attacked the prisoner, crushing her skull against the cell wall. When Asci appealed to the court to protest his client’s mistreatment, his suit was rejected as part of a ‘terrorist campaign’ against F-type isolation prisons. The court concluded that the prisoner must have crushed her own skull …

Many of the prisoners Asci represented have [also] had their feet taped together and their hands taped behind their backs. Left alone, immobilised, for hours or days at a time and unable to avail themselves of toilet facilities, they are forced to endure the indignity of repeatedly soiling themselves. Many of Asci’s clients, both men and women, had been raped while in custody, often by prison guards using batons. Asci related another experience of one client during a court hearing who had been held in isolation and who had to halt midway through reading a statement to the court. He had lost his hearing” through mistreatment “and could no longer hear his own voice.

Prisoners in the[se] F-type prisons typically suffer from a range of psychological illnesses including stress, anxiety and depression. The authorities also routinely deny [‘terrorist’] prisoners medical assistance and access to legal representation. According to Asci, prisoners are arbitrarily refused visits from family members that they are legally entitled to. Their books, newspapers and other reading material are confiscated. The letters sent to their families are heavily censored - if they ever arrive at all”.

Behic Asci is now close to the end of his death fast, which he took up in protest against a system that allows no legal resource or protection for political prisoners in Turkey. Asci felt "he could no longer sit back and watch his clients die."

If only there were more Turks like Behic Asci . . . and if only those Turks were in a position to made a difference. They would be the ones with which democracy and peace could be achieved.

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