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Europe rights court condemns Turkey for treatment of jailed Kurdish rebel leader

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] on Tuesday condemned [judgment, in French; press release] Turkey for violating the rights of Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed founder of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) [party website]. The court found that Ocalan, imprisoned on the Turkish island of Imarli since 1999, had been subjected to "inhuman" conditions from the time of his incarceration until November 2009. The court also ruled that Ocalan's life sentence (commuted from a death sentence in 2002 when Turkey abolished capital punishment) should not have been imposed "without any possibility of conditional release." Ocalan lodged his grievances with the ECHR in August 2003 asserting the Turkish government violated several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF] in regard to his prison conditions and his sentence. Specifically, Ocalan, complained that he was kept socially isolated, that his life sentence without possibility of release was too harsh and that he was gradually being poisoned in prison. The court found the Turkish government violated only Article three of the convention, which prohibits "inhuman or degrading treatment" by keeping Ocalan isolated from his family, attorneys and other prisoners and terming his life sentence as "irreducible." The court ordered Turkey to pay Ocalan "25,000 euros in respect of costs and expenses."

The PKK, deemed an illegal terrorist organization by the Turkish government, advocates for secession of part of Turkey's territory to become an independent Kurdish state within Turkey. Ocalan, arrested for "leading a gang of armed terrorists responsible for attacks resulting in the death of thousands of people," has been complaining of unfair judicial treatment and campaigning for the legitimacy of the PKK since his incarceration. In 2003 Ocalan successfully sued for a new trial, claiming [JURIST reports] that his trial proceedings were delayed and that he had not been tried before an independent and impartial tribunal. In 2007 Ocalan appealed [JURIST report] a 2002 decision of the Council of the European Union [official website] to include the PKK on its list of terrorist organizations. In 2012 hundreds of Kurdish political prisoners went on a hunger strike [BBC backgrounder] demanding better conditions for Ocalan. Ocalan, in a display of his continued influence in the Kurdish movement, successfully pleaded for an end to the 68 day political fast.

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