What chance is there of a fair trial for Ocalan in Turkey?

The lawyers defending him have been attacked, intimidated and threatened with death

IT WILL be an image as powerful, and as shocking, as the first photographs of him bound and blindfolded on the flight from Kenya, surrounded by hooded commandos. The Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, on trial for his life in a bullet-proof cage, unable to communicate with anyone except the chief judge. Unable to hear the proceedings in the specially constructed State Security Court. Unable to confer with his own defence team.

Ocalan's lawyers are crying foul, arguing that the restrictions that will confront their client in court this Monday will violate his defence rights. Yet whatever the conditions inside the courtroom when Turkey's trial of the century finally opens, the rights of Ocalan and his lawyers have already been violated to such an extent that a fair trial will almost certainly be impossible - even if Turkey attempts a last-minute sleight of hand by adjourning the trial almost immediately to give a new coalition government time to introduce a bill abolishing the universally criticised State Security Courts.

If the Ocalan trial is a litmus test of Turkey's present suitability to join the European Union, membership is as far off as ever. For the three-and-a-half months since Ocalan's capture have highlighted, in often dramatic fashion, the collapse of the rule of law in Turkey and the unabashed legitimacy still accorded to violence both popularly and officially.

The lawyers defending Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), have not been permitted a single private meeting with their client since their first visit to Imrali island on 25 February. Their time with Ocalan has been limited to a wholly inadequate two hours a week - always within sight and hearing of security officials, always without case files. They have been intimidated, attacked and threatened with death - sometimes by the security forces themselves, sometimes while under their supposed protection. On one occasion they were attacked inside a courtroom. Five needed hospital treatment for injuries that included "extensive tissue trauma... subcutaneous bleeding... and skin laceration".

On his first visit to Imrali island, the chief defence lawyer Ahmet Zeki Okcuoglu, now off the case after months of unrelenting intimidation, was ordered to remove his shoes and socks. When he protested that no other visitors to the island were subjected to such humiliating treatment, Okcuoglu, a long-time critic of the PKK's own violence, was told: "Keep quiet, or we will make you take off all your clothes. And then you know what we can do to you!" Abolition of the semi-military State Security Courts - a measure on which Turkey's prospective coalition partners have reportedly agreed and which, cynics will note, will remove one ground for appeal to the European Court of Human Rights once the trial is over - will undoubtedly improve the quality of Turkish justice. But this alone will not guarantee Ocalan a fair trial (even excluding concerns about the conduct of the pre-trial process). In its most recent report on Turkey, "The Duty to Supervise, Investigate and Prosecute", Amnesty International points out that State Security Courts are just part of the problem; that only a more thorough reform of the judicial system can restore genuine independence to the judiciary.

The capture of Ocalan, leader of a 15-year rebellion that has claimed some 30,000 lives, presented Turkey with a golden opportunity to reconcile itself with its Kurdish population, 13 or 14 million people, almost a quarter of the country's population, who are denied basic political, cultural and linguistic rights. For more than 75 years the Kurdish south- east of the country has been oppressed and wilfully neglected. It has a per capita income less than half the national average and a literacy of 46 per cent, against a national 78 per cent. Children who speak only Kurdish may not utter a word of this language at school. In the name of the fight against the PKK, Turkey has been responsible for extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture and destruction of villages.

Rather than weaken Kurdish resolve, the capture of Ocalan appears to have created a new unity among supporters and critics of the PKK. Yet everything indicates that Turkey believes it has won a great battle and will now push for a final victory. Thus it was that on 26 February, barely two weeks after Ocalan's arrest, the pro-Kurdish Democratic Mass Party of the former minister Serafettin Elci was banned for the sole "crime" of calling for a political solution for the Kurdish question. Hadep, the main pro-Kurdish party, accused by the state of having a hotline to the PKK, saw its leaders, scores of candidates and thousands of supporters arrested during the campaign for April's general and municipal elections. But despite this harassment - ignored by Turkey's Nato allies as Ankara contributed a squadron of F-16s to the war in Kosovo - Hadep won a stunning 62 per cent of the vote in Diyabakir, capital of the south-east, and captured a clutch of city halls. Now a senior state prosecutor says he will seek to have the Hadep mayors removed from office to prevent "a terrorist takeover".

Predictably, the strong-arm tactics of this critical post-Ocalan period are not confined to the political sphere. On 26 April, the Interior Ministry issued an order banning the phrase "people of Kurdish origin" - the only safe way of saying "Kurd" for most of the Nineties. Now journalists must write about "our citizens who are called Kurdish by separatist circles". There are no longer any "evacuated villages", only "abandoned villages"; no "calls for peace", only "interruption of terrorist activities". No "separatist camps", only "terrorist bases". So it's official: there are no Kurds, and no oppression of them. Only terrorists.

While these policies may be attractive to the two nationalist parties that triumphed in the elections - the acting Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's Democratic Left Party and the far-right Nationalist Action Party whose associated paramilitary groups killed thousands of leftists and Kurdish nationalists in the late Seventies - they are a recipe for disaster in a country whose Kurdish population is no longer confined to the south- east. Scattered all across Turkey as a result of Turkey's own scorched- earth tactics, often unassimilated in wretched shanty towns, a generation of young Kurds has grown up seeing their parents killed, displaced and, like Ocalan on the plane from Kenya, humiliated. Sooner or later, in one way or another, they will wreak their vengeance not only on a state that denies their right to exist, but also on those who tolerate, and arm, behaviour in Turkey on which they have declared war in Kosovo.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
Crime watch: Cara Delevingne and Daniel Brühl in ‘The Face of an Angel’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
News
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
News
‘The Late Late Show’ presenter James Corden is joined by Mila Kunis and Tom Hanks for his first night as host
news
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss