Lawyers protest at Ocalan's prison conditions


Lawyers for Mr Abdullah Ocalan today renewed protests against the prison conditions of the Kurdish rebel leader, who remains isolated as the sole inmate of a Turkish island jail.

"Abdullah Ocalan, held in conditions of extreme isolation, has been kept from his lawyers and family for three months under pretext of adverse weather conditions," lawyer Mr Ercan Kanar told a press conference held in front of the Sultanahmet courthouse in Istanbul.

Mr Ocalan's lawyers have previously suggested that the toughening in his jail conditions is linked to the looming war in neighboring Iraq, which Ankara fears could spark unrest in the Kurdish-populated area straddling the Turkish-Iraqi border.

"Illegal activities must cease at Imrali," said Mr Kanar, referring to the Marmara Sea prison near Istanbul where the leader of the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) is serving life without parole, after his death sentence was commuted in 2002.

"Despite our protests, Turkish law concerning the prisoner's detention and international rules are not being applied," he said, summing up the key complaints contained in a letter sent to Prime Minister, Mr Abdullah Gul.

A delegation from the Council of Europe including members of an anti-torture committee visited Imrali last week to inspect Ocalan's jail conditions.

But Mr Kanar said Mr Ocalan's lawyers had received no information from the pan-European rights watchdog except that the Kurdish leader was in good health.

The PKK has threatened to initiate a civil disobedience campaign among Turkey's sizeable Kurdish minority unless Ocalan's jail conditions are eased.

Thousands of Kurds staged rallies in Turkey, France and Greece in early February to demand Ocalan's release. The protests came on the fourth anniversary of his capture by Turkish undercover agents in Kenya on February 15th, 1999.

Ocalan was sentenced to death for treason in June 1999 but his sentence was commuted to life in prison in 2002 when Turkey abolished capital punishment as part of reforms designed to boost its bid to join the European Union.

The PKK declared an end to its 15-year war for self-rule in southeast Turkey in 1999 in favor of a democratic resolution to Kurdish grievances. The conflict, which has claimed about 36,500 lives, has since then significantly abated.