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Westminster J&P report on human rights delegation to Turkey

Fr Joe Ryan

Fr Joe Ryan

It was a privilege to be part of this Delegation from 13th - 19th February, Fr Joe Ryan, from Westminster Justice and Peace writes.

Some of us have participated in the first Delegation in February 2016 to Istanbul and then followed on to Strasbourg to encourage the Committee for Prevention of Torture to intervene for Mr Ocalan, who has been in prison since February 1999. Most of this time; he has been in solitary confinement and not allowed visits either by his family or his lawyers. This has been the case for many years. This inhumane treatment is against all natural law and even against the Turkish Constitution on Human Rights, which they have signed up to.

The Delegation in Diyarbakir:

Our Delegation met with several groups and individuals: Democratic Society Congress (DTC) and Co-Chair Leyla Guyen who had just been released from prison. She explained her role in trying to bring together all members of society. She indicated that the Kurdish people are united as never before and their single aim is to have democracy in Turkey.

We met with the Democratic Regions Party (DBP), Co-Chairs and had lunch with local authorities - Co-Mayors in Diyarbakir. We met with the Free Women's Congress (JJA) and MPs of the People's Democratic Party (HDP). The Trade Unions, KESK and DISK told their story, as did the journalists, news agencies and TV representatives whose offices were closed down by the authorities.

We attended a court hearing of an MP whose trial was conducted by video link because of the distance; she was removed from her home constituency. We stayed as long as we could at the hearing and were told later that the judge said: "You can easily carry out your constituency duties from prison! I ask you!!

The Delegation in Istanbul:

On our return to Istanbul from Diyarbakir we made the three hours trip to see if we could visit Selahattin Demirtaş -HDP, Co-Chair MP at Edirne prison. No member of our party were allowed to visit. We held a Press Conference in the region of the prison and were able to convey our solidarity through the lawyers who had arranged their visit to the MP. (More information on our Istanbul stay is in the House of Commons Report).

Report at the House of Commons:

On Wednesday 22nd February, four member of the 3rd Imrali Delegation presented a report in the Committee Rooms at the House of Commons. This event was kindly hosted by Natalie McGarry MP and chaired by Bert Schouwenburg, International Officer GMB.

Dr Federico Venturini gave the background details of the meaning of our visit to Turkey. He indicated that the request made by Julie Ward, MEP had not been responded to. He outlined our plan to visit Strasbourg and meet with the CPT Representative (Committee for the Prevention of Torture) just as we did last year. Then to do a return visit to Strasbourg when the full Council was in session.

Fr Joe Ryan reported on the Delegation's meeting with Mr Ocalan's lawyers in Istanbul. Mr Ibrahim Bilmez reminded us that they had not been able to visit their client since 27 July 2011, despite hundreds of applications. In the period of January 1st to 15 July 2016, all of the 57 applications of lawyer visits were rejected by the Chief Public Prosecution Office in Bursa for various reasons like 'boat maintenance' or 'adverse weather conditions'.

His family applied for a visit 26 times in that same period, but again a similar reply. His brother was able to make one visit last year and reported that Mr Ocalan was in reasonable health and in good spirits. He was unable to elaborate any more.

We also met with Ms Pervin Bundan who leads the support Delegation for Mr Ocalan. She would have been the last to see Mr Ocalan on Imrali Island. There is real concerns for his well-being and the inhumane condition under which he is held. They too made appeal after appeal to visit him in prison, with no success.

Mr Jonathan Steele gave his impression as a journalist and indicated the same concern for Mr Ocalan. The engagement of the Council of Europe is vital if any real progress is to be made.

This was the same message from Julie Ward, MEP. She has already set in motion plans to move the process forward. She will be requesting that the matter be on the agenda at the next full council meeting. She will be using her Parliamentary Privilege to indicate the urgency of raising the whole Turkish/Kurdish situation.

Simon Dubbins, Trade Union Representative, reported on the support now being generated amongst trade unionists on the whole process of Peace in Kurdistan.

THE SILENCE: We in the free world, we here in the House of Commons, members of the Council of Europe and Governments of the free world need to respond. The reality is that silence means compliance, compliance means agreement, agreement means consent and consent means that everything is just fine as it is! When we are privy to injustice and total disregard for even natural law, not to speak of the Geneva Convention etc., and do or say nothing, this is a terrible indictment for us to carry.

We cannot wash our hands of this terrible situation. We need action. We appeal for:

Freedom of Abdullah Ocalan, as he is a key person in whole peace process not only in Turkey but in the whole of the Middle East.
Stop the reign of terror against the Kurdish people
Start the peace process again between Turkey and the Kurdish Committee
We have a mandate and an obligation as a result of the 10.3million signatures presented to the Council of Europe in 2014 demanding the release of Mr Ocalan.
We will have a full report in due course.

Signed: Joe Ryan
24th February 2017