Turkey’s Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said the government has lifted a ban on lawyers visiting Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), according to a Reuters report on Thursday.
The minister’s announcement came two weeks after the first lawyer visit to Ocalan was allowed since 2011.
“The decisions regarding a ban on visits has been lifted, providing for the possibility of visits,” Gul told reporters on Thursday.
According to a report on Gazete Duvar news website, the decision stated by the Justice Minister came in the aftermath of talks with representatives of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT).
Gul said that the CPT has also recently visited the PKK leader in Imrali for the first time since April 2016.
Lawyers of Ocalan underlined in a statement following the decision that they have not been allowed to meet him since they saw him in prison on May 2 despite subsequent requests. The lawyers also indicated that the jailed leader has also not been allowed to see his family.
Therefore, it was not immediately clear whether the statement about the lifting of the visit ban would lead to an end of the hunger strikes against the conditions of the isolation imposed on Ocalan by the Turkish government.
Some 3,000 people, including politicians, activists but mostly Kurdish prisoners are currently on hunger strike according to the pro-Kurdish Democratic Peoples’ Party (HDP).
The strike which was initiated by the HDP MP Leyla Guven on November 7, 2018, demands regular access to Ocalan by his lawyers and family members.
Guven had been on a hunger strike for 190 days when the statement from the Justice Ministry was made on Thursday.
Ocalan issued a rare statement through his lawyers when he saw them two weeks ago and held forth that although he respects their resistance, those on hunger strike should not risk their health or lives.
The hunger strikers live on water, vitamins, and sugar.
Some Turkish critics have claimed that the decision to allow Ocalan see his lawyers was a move to win over Kurdish voters before the re-run on mayoral elections in Istanbul on June 23.
The pro-Kurdish HDP supported the main opposition secular Republican People’s Party (CHP)’s mayoral candidate Ekrem Imamoglu in the Istanbul race during March 31 local elections. The party announced that it will do the same for the re-run in June.
Imamoglu who was elected as the Istanbul mayor in the March polls was made to quit his post until a re-run by Turkey’s top election body following an objection to the results submitted by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Since his arrest in Kenya in 1999, Ocalan, the founder, and leader of the PKK militant group has been imprisoned in the Imrali Island in the sea of Marmara. He was not allowed to see his lawyers between 2011 and May 2 this year.
The PKK, an armed group that has been fighting for self-rule in the predominantly Kurdish region southeast of Turkey for more than three decades, is regarded as a terrorist organization by Ankara.
More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflicts between Turkish armed forces and the PKK since 1984.