Ein Offener Brief der IHD's an Lord Russell Johnston

Open Letter to Lord Russell Johnston

Ankara, 20 May 2001

Lord Russell Johnston,

Council of Europe

President of the Parliamentary Assembly

Dear Lord Johnston,

We thank you for your expression of concern about the continuing hunger strikes by political prisoners in protest against the isolation imposed in Turkish prisons. However, we would like to draw a number of points to your attention, in view of the Council of Europeıs regional role in the protection of human rights and the Parliamentary Assemblyıs role in monitoring human rights responsibilities of member countries.

We are hereby addressing you to express our expectation that you might invite the Turkish government to solve the current prison crisis on the basis of Turkey's Council of Europe obligations.

As we made clear to you in our letter of 12 April 2001, the crisis which is now presenting a fatal threat in Turkish prisons, is inextricably tied up with the isolation policy. While the Justice Minister on 9 December 2000 declared that the F-type Prisons would not open until measures had been put in place to prevent isolation and torture, and while the relevant professional organizations were making efforts to bring the hunger strikes to an end through dialogue, on 19 December 2000 the government launched a bloody operation to transfer a large number of political prisoners to the F type Prisons; there has still been no independent investigation of how 32 people lost their lives in the course of these events, or of the serious allegations of torture. In response to this operation, which could fairly be called a massacre, the hunger strikes spread. So far 22 people have died and many prisoners are left permanently disabled.

The government declares that it has done everything necessary to protect human rights and that the hunger strikes should now be called off. Our Association has also taken a number of initiatives to bring the hunger strikes immediately to an end, but it is our belief that the government has not done what it should to end isolation and other abuses in the F Type Prisons.

With the 2 May amendment to Article 16 of the Anti-Terror Law which provided for unconditional isolation for all prisoners, the lifting of isolation was made conditional, permanent isolation brought in as a punishment measure for some prisoners, and discretion in such matters left entirely with the prison administration; however, isolation has not been lifted in the F Type Prisons, and reports are now coming in from other prisons of isolation and ill-treatment.

The prisoners in these facilities have been under conditions of intense isolation for 5 months; moreover, there are serious reports of torture and ill-treatment. Access to health facilities or to court are being obstructed and visits by lawyers and families are being limited, while prisoners are being denied some of their most basic human needs. Hunger strikers in hospital, many of whom have lost most of their mental and physical abilities, are lying chained by their ankles, isolated even in the hospital environment. Hunger strikers who abandon their action are not receiving the medically indicated nutrition, and there are frequent reports that they are ill-treated.

The government claims that the hunger strikers want the F Type Prisons abolished and a return to the dormitory system.

However, our Associationıs impression, based on discussions with relatives and lawyers, is that the hunger strikersı demand is for the lifting of isolation. We fear that if isolation is not lifted, the hunger strikes will spread and lead to still further loss of life.

Our Association and other involved professional and democratic organizations have, in various initiatives, called not only for the lifting of isolation, but also other reforms which are among the demands of the hunger strikers, but which the Association has been pressing for over many years.

1. Solitary and "small group" (three person) isolation must be ended.

2. Prisoners with health problems must be treated in accordance with doctorsı advice, without forcible intervention.

3. The 19 December "operation" and earlier operations in other prisons must be subject to independent investigation and promptly brought to justice.

4. The management of prisons and remand facilities must be open to monitoring by independent councils on which non-governmental organizations are represented.

Our Association has made various initiatives inviting the government to have a dialogue with the protesters and thereby bring the hunger strikes to a close without further loss of life.

These demands are for measures which are quite normal in a democratic state based on the rule of law. They are also in conformity with the standards of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture.

The government, however, has chosen to increase pressure on all non-governmental organizations which have opposed the isolation and torture, including our Association. Human rights organizations and interested professional organizations have not only been prevented from directly monitoring what is happening in the prisons, but have also been relentlessly persecuted. Prosecutions have been brought against the Headquarters of the Human Rights Association and several of its branches. Most recently, a trial was opened against the Turkish Medical Association, claiming that its statements about the 19 December operations were "activities in breach of its statute" and that Medical Association doctors examining prisoners at Bursa E Type Prison had "disobeyed the orders of authorised officers."

In the face of such a situation, your support, as President of the Parliamentary Assembly, for the governmentıs prison policy and most recently, in the speech you made in Ankara on 18 May, your unloading of responsibility for ending the hunger strike onto the poor families who have been harassed by the security forces for so many months (in effect accusing them of colluding in the death of their own children), conflicts with the principle of regional cooperation for the protection of human rights which was the founding aim of the Council of Europe. We wish to express our concern about this serious retrograde move on the part of the Council of Europe. We consider that the correct address for ending the hunger strikes is the government, which should do so in compliance with the Council of Europe obligations. In our opinion, this is also in line with your position as the Speaker of the inter-parliamentary organ of an intergovernmental organisation. For us, such an attitude as we suggest is also well-founded, considering statements by the Committee of Ministers and the CPT, as well as the state of Turkey's compliance with the ECHR judgements point to a general relentless non-compliance with those obligations.

With our respects,
Hüsnü Öndül