Öcalan’s sentence needs to be reviewed in 2024

Öcalan’s sentence needs to be reviewed in 2024

The ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on the dossier of Abdullah Öcalan carries a dimension that will necessitate the review of his aggravated life sentence after 10 years. The ECHR issued five separate decisions after the latest applications from Öcalan’s lawyers. These applications pertained to Öcalan’s conditions in İmralı Island prison. The lawyers argued that due to the conditions on İmralı, Turkey had violated the third article of the European Convention on Human Rights that states, “No one shall be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The ECHR evaluated this complaint for two separate periods, before and after 2009, and ruled differently for both. 2009 is the year Turkey improved conditions in the prison following the critical report prepared by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CTP) after its visit to the island.

First, the ECHR ruled that Turkey violated Article 3 of the convention, during the period before 2009. The important point is that there were four for in favor and three against the decision made by the seven member chamber. The Turkish judge Professor Işıl Karakaş was among the group of three that opposed the decision.

The ECHR ruled that there was no violation of the said article for the post-2009 period. This decision was made six to one. It appears that the majority found the steps taken by the government sufficient.

It appears that the ECHR did not consider the problems that prevented Öcalan’s meeting with his lawyers and family members were due to recurring reasons like “bad weather conditions” or malfunctioning in the boat as a violation of right.


Another complaint of Öcalan was about various restrictions were brought to his contacts with his family, as well as his correspondence violated the Convention’s Article 8 that says “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and correspondence.”

The ECHR ruled by four to three that Turkey did not violate Article 8 for Öcalan’s complaint about the restrictions brought to his correspondence with the outside world. The ECHR agreed with Turkey’s concerns that Öcalan could use his correspondence with the outside world to make contact with PKK members. The court ruled at the same time that the restrictions brought to his private and familial life did not go beyond acceptable limits.

Another issue of complaint underlined the fact that in 1999, when Öcalan was sentenced to death, death penalties were not executed anyway in Turkey, and had been converted into 36 years in prison.

However, lawyers argued that changing the death penalty to an aggravated life sentence was a violation of Article 7 of the convention, which states, “no one shall be held guilty of any criminal offense on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offense under national or international law at the time when it was committed.” The ECHR ruled unanimously that there was no violation pertaining to that complaint.

The critical aspect of the decision pertains to Öcalan’s fifth complaint. It relies on the argument that his aggravated life sentence constitutes another violation of Article 3 of the convention’s on the prohibition of inhumane or degrading treatment. Öcalan was found correct on this complaint in a unanimous ruling by the Court.

The reason is because of the ruling that the ECHR Great Chamber passed last year on the “Vinter and others versus the United Kingdom” case. According to that ruling, an aggravated life sentence should include the perspective for “the possibility of release” and “the review of the sentence after a certain time,” in order for it to be in accordance with the Article 3 of the convention.

Aggravated life sentences are practiced in Turkey without leaving the door open to conditional release. Within the framework of its previous ruling, the court agreed that the aggravated life sentence about Öcalan violated Article 3.

Turkey is under obligation to implement the ECHR’s decision. What needs to be done is to have a legal amendment enabling the review, after a certain time period, of the situation of those with aggravated life sentences. and the consideration for the possibility of conditional release.

When could the review take place? When looked to the “Vinter” ruling, it seems that the ECHR sees the completion of 25 years of detention for aggravated life sentences a reasonable time for the review.

Since Öcalan was detained in 1999, the period for 25 years will end in 2024. In other words, Turkey will have to review Öcalan’s sentence in 10 years.

One important consequence of the ECHR’s decision is that in the event that the peace process with the PKK deepens and conditions are to mature, it gives the Turkish government certain room to maneuver with regard to Öcalan’s situation.