|TURKISH COURT COMMUTES OCALAN DEATH SENTENCE TO LIFE IMPRISONMENT|
The state security court in Turkey has commuted the death sentence of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan to life imprisonment with no chance of parole or amnesty, reported the state-run Anatolian news agency yesterday.
Ocalan was arrested in Kenya and convicted of treason in 1999 for his role in the PKK’s 16 year guerrilla war against the Turkish authorities. The conflict resulted in the death of over 30,000 people in the mainly Kurdish south-east of the country. Ocalan remains in solitary confinement as the only prisoner on Imrali Island.
The Turkish court’s decision was taken in line with the recent reform package passed by Turkey’s parliament which, alongside the abolition of the death penalty, also included extended minority rights and greater freedom of expression and association.
The Kurdish Human Rights Project welcomes the state security court’s decision. However, Mark Muller, the British lawyer representing Ocalan before the European Court of Human Rights, stresses the need to place the decision within Turkey’s general political context, in particular, Turkey’s bid to join the European Union (EU): “The announcement comes at a potentially critical time in Turkey’s bid for membership [of the EU]. The European Commission meets next week to review the progress of EU candidate countries, including Turkey, towards meeting EU accession requirements. The timing of the announcement of the decision in the Ocalan case is not merely coincidental. The Turkish state is under considerable pressure to reform its human rights record in order to meet EU accession criteria. The abolition of the death penalty is but one step in this process”.
The KHRP and Ocalan’s lawyer Mark Muller stress that a clear and definitive ruling from the European Court on the use of the death penalty in Turkey remains essential. “Despite the state security court’s recent decision, the death penalty in Turkey remains part of the Constitution and can be imposed in times of war or imminent war. That means there is still the potential for abuse.” Muller refers to the European Court’s findings that the Turkish state security courts are neither impartial nor independent. “The possibility remains that the security court could overrule its own decision in the future, particularly if there is a change of government following the elections in November.” There is an overwhelming need for the European Court to set a clear precedent on this issue to ensure the protection of the fundamental freedoms of all the citizens of Turkey.
NOTES FOR EDITORS:1. The Kurdish Human Rights Project works for the promotion and protection of human rights within the Kurdish regions of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and the former Soviet Union.
2. The European Court of Human Rights was set up in Strasbourg in 1959 to deal with alleged violations of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights. On 1 November 1998 a full-time Court was established, replacing the original two-tier system of a part-time Commission and Court.