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Turkey: Court judgment on Öcalan human rights complaint

Judges have today delivered their judgement on the human rights protests of Abdullah Öcalan against Turkey.

In today’s Chamber judgment in the case of Öcalan v. Turkey (application nos. 24069/03, 197/04, 6201/06 and 10464/07), which is not final, the European Court of Human Rights held:

by four votes to three that there had been a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights as to the conditions of Öcalan’s detention up to 17 November 2009;

unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 3 as regards his sentence to life imprisonment without any possibility of conditional release;

by six votes to one, that there had been no violation of Article 3 as regards the conditions of his detention during the period subsequent to 17 November 2009;

by four votes to three, that there had been no violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life); and

unanimously, that there had been no violation of Article 7 (no punishment without law).

The court held that Turkey was to pay Mr Öcalan 25,000 euros in respect of costs and expenses.

Öcalan, the founder of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), an illegal organisation, complained mainly about the irreducible nature of his sentence to life imprisonment and about the conditions of his detention (in particular his social isolation and the restrictions on his communication with members of his family and his lawyers).

In view of a certain number of aspects, such as the lack of communication facilities that would have overcome Öcalan’s social isolation, together with the persisting major difficulties for his visitors to gain access to the prison, the Court found that the conditions of detention imposed on the applicant up to 17 November 2009 constituted inhuman treatment.

Having regard in particular to the arrival of other detainees at the İmralı prison and to the increased frequency of visits, it came to the opposite conclusion as regards his detention subsequent to that date.

In addition, it took the view that in the absence of any review mechanism, the life prison sentence imposed on Öcalan constituted an “irreducible” sentence that also amounted to inhuman treatment.

It considered, however, that in view of the Government’s legitimate fear that Öcalan might use communications with the outside world to contact members of the PKK, the restrictions on his right to respect for private and family life did not exceed what was necessary for the prevention of disorder or crime.

Lastly, the Court rejected Öcalan’s argument to the effect that his sentence, after having been commuted, was in practice harsher than that which he had initially received.

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