Abdullah Ocalan: A Living Argument Against The #DeathPenalty

By N. Jayaram

26 April, 2013

It is not important that Time magazine featured Abdullah Ocalan in its latest annual list of “100 most influential people in the world”. Such lists are open to question. A list drawn up by a publication based in the United States is bound to reflect a heavy US bias. In fact, it contains names many people in other parts of the world might never have heard of.

What is important is that the 200-word profile of Ocalan in Time is by Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Fein, a party historically linked to the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Adams establishes the relevance of that fact at the outset: “The Irish peace accord known as the Good Friday Agreement is 15 years old this month. For almost all that time, Abdullah Ocalan, a founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, has been in prison in Turkey.”(1)

The Good Friday Agreement of 10 April 1998 was a historic development that ushered in peace (albeit with inevitable hiccups) after decades of “troubles” in Northern Ireland. It signalled the Provisional IRA’s move away from the use of violence for attaining its goal, that of severing Northern Ireland from Britain and incorporating it in a socialist Irish republic.

That agreement came to be held up as a model of sorts for ending other conflicts such as between Basque nationalists and Spain and, of course, between the Kurdish pro-independence groups and Turkey.

Ankara regards the left-leaning Kurdistan Workers’ Party as a terrorist outfit, a stand endorsed by Washington and some other allies. (Turkey is a key member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.) Its leader Ocalan was arrested in Nairobi in 1999 and taken to Turkey where he was sentenced to death. But the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment when Turkey applied to join the European Union, all of whose members are abolitionist.

Happily, Ocalan underwent a change of heart during his long years in prison. There have been sporadic peace talks between him and the Turkish authorities. “Persuading enemies that there are alternative ways to resolve long-standing differences takes patience and a willingness to engage in dialogue, but most important, it requires leadership,” Adams notes in his brief profile of the Kurdish leader.

“Ocalan has demonstrated that leadership. Despite incarceration, he has forged a road map to peace that commits the Kurdish people to democracy and freedom and tolerance.”

In a stirring call for this year’s Newroz or Navroz (New Year) issued on 21 March, Ocalan addressed “all the peoples of Middle East and Central Asia” and said the whole region “is currently seeking a contemporary modernity and democratic order that would address its historical context. The search for a new model where everyone could live freely and in fraternity has become one of basic human needs – like bread and water. It is inevitable that Anatolian and Mesopotamian geography and the cultural momentum in there will build this model.” (2)

Kurdistan is one of several “unrepresented nations” of the world, its people spread across Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq.

Time magazine also picked Indian human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover for inclusion in its list of 100. (3)

“Justice, she believes, must reach everyone — not just privileged Indians on the top rungs but those in insurgency-torn areas, those unjustly tortured, jailed or executed, those who slip through the many cracks in the system,” notes writer Nilanjana Roy in her introduction.

Of course, the same list has two more Indians, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and film actor Aamir Khan, testifying to essentially unimaginative nature of such lists.

But the fact that Ocalan and Grover are on it has an encouraging message for human rights activists, especially those calling for universal abolition of the death penalty: Ocalan is alive today because Turkey scrapped it. And Grover’s is a loud voice pointing to the futility and counterproductive nature of the death penalty in dealing with crimes, including gender crimes. Tough punitive provisions will only make it harder to get a conviction.

Ocalan personifies that old saw, “one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter”. He is a hero for tens of millions of Kurdish people and is no terrorist in the eyes of many others sympathetic to the Kurdish cause. But even staying with the Turkish characterisation, the fact that he is alive today, affords both sides an opportunity to engage in peaceful dialogue.

Such logic seems to have escaped Justices G.S. Singhvi and S.J. Mukhopadhaya of the Indian Supreme Court, who recently rejected a plea that delay in considering the mercy petition of Devender Pal Singh Bhullar constituted grounds for commutation. (4) They were throwing away a wealth of jurisprudence within India and worldwide that has held such delays ought automatically to lead to commutation. Thirty years ago, in the case of T.V. Vatheeswaran v. State of Tamil Nadu, Supreme Court Justices O. Chinnappa Reddy and R.B Misra had so held. One can only conclude that the judges who handled the Bhullar appeal were swayed by the pro-hanging trend that seems to have India in its grip.

Turkey is overwhelmingly Muslim (about 98% of the population) and has officially given up the death penalty, not having executed anyone since 1984. Some other Muslim countries too have abolished it – from Albania to Uzbekistan – and some are abolitionist in practice, meaning they have not carried out an execution for at least 10 years – from Algeria to Tajikistan.

Other Muslim countries as well as Hindu dominated India can follow suit. But that would require judges to get their precedents right, open their eyes to the global trends in jurisprudence and apply their minds without being swayed by the blood lust whipped up by Hindutva and other antediluvian forces.

It would also help if India’s Home Ministry and the Rashtrapati Bhavan too could shed their current penchant for pandering to mobs baying for blood – mostly Muslim blood.


1. http://time100.time.com/2013/04/18/time-100/slide/abdullah-ocalan/#ixzz2RNdqaJI5

2. http://www.euronews.com/2013/03/22/web-full-transcript-of-abdullah-ocalans-ceasefire-call-kurdish-pkk/

3. http://time100.time.com/2013/04/18/time-100/slide/vrinda-grover/

4. http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/succumbing-to-the-bogey-of-fear/article4654464.ece

N. Jayaram is a journalist now based in Bangalore after more than 23 years in East Asia (mainly Hong Kong and Beijing) and 11 years in New Delhi. He was with the Press Trust of India news agency for 15 years and Agence France-Presse for 11 years and is currently engaged in editing and translating for NGOs and academic institutions. He writes a blog: http://walkerjay.wordpress.com/



Turkish Police Use Tear-Gas Against Protesting Mothers , Where is Media ?

Written byRuwayda Mustafah Rabar, Nov 5, 2012, http://globalvoicesonline.org

Kurdish political prisoners have reached their 55th day of hunger strike. There are hundreds of political prisoners on hunger strike in Turkey, and this has led to solidarity protests throughout Europe, and in particular within Turkey. Earlier yesterday [November 4, 2012], the mothers of some of the political prisoners staged a sit-in, and were met with tear-gas, as well as water canisters was sprayed directly on them. Turkish mainstream media and governmental ministers remain oblivious to unfolding anger by Kurdish people, and their disregard for a political settlement of Turkey’s Kurdish question has made the situation worse.

In much of Kurdistan, there has been solidarity protests but despite the attention the hunger strikes have received within Kurdish regions, there are few mainstream media outlets reporting on the hunger strike. The lack of media coverage has angered many Kurds, who are being vocal on social networking sites. Hulya, from Liverpool, says:

@hulyaulas: The biggest political hunger strike in history by Kurdish political prisoners is being ignored in world’s media.

Dirman adds:

@dirman95: It is so hard to eat knowing that the hunger strike has been going on for over 51 days and the world is doing nothing about it… disgusting.

Al Jazeera’s The Stream has been the only internationally acknowledged mainstream outlet that has highlighted the gravity of the hunger strike. They have used their social media outlets to raise awareness. For example they recently tweeted:

@ajstream: Why has the government and Media in Turkey ignored the hunger strikes of 715 Kurdish political prisoners?

An online petition has been launched, with 3,451 supporters so far, that asks the Turkish government to engage in constructive dialogue with the prisoners. Judith Butler from Berkeley comments:

The Turkish government must enter into serious dialogue with these prisoners who now risk their lives to expose the injustice under which they live.

KurdishBlogger.com posted the following picture on Facebook.

Kurds in Slemani, South Kurdistan show solidarity with their Kurdish sisters and brothers (at least 682 inmates) who are on hunger strike in 67 prisons across Turkey.


And Tara Fatehi, a Kurdish activist in Australia, expressed her anger at the international community:

Thousands of Kurdish political prisoners have been on hunger strike in Turkey since Sept 12 and the International community remains silent. This is Kurdish hunger for freedom, it is not a new concept. The Kurds have been fighting for rights, peace and freedom for decades. Hannelore Kuchlersaid said it best “Kurdistan is a country taken hostage.” and whilst the international media want you to think this is solely about Abdullah Ocalan and the PKK, it is not. It’s about acquiring basic human rights in their own homeland.

Written by Ruwayda Mustafah Rabar

Police tear gas kurd hunger strike protesters in #Istanbul

November 04, 2012 03:54 PM (Last updated: November 04, 2012 04:27 PM)

Agence France Presse
A protestor throws a fire bomb as he clashes with Turkish riot police during a protest in support of a hunger strike movement by Kurdish prisoners, on October 30, 2012, in Istanbul. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC
A protestor throws a fire bomb as he clashes with Turkish riot police during a protest in support of a hunger strike movement by Kurdish prisoners, on October 30, 2012, in Istanbul. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC
ISTANBUL: Turkish police fired tear gas and water cannon at protesters in Istanbul staging a demonstration in support of a widespread hunger strike by Kurdish prisoners, an AFP photographer at the scene said.

Around 400 protesters were gathered outside the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) building, chanting “Evacuate prisons” and “Freedom to inmates”, when police fired the tear gas and water cannon without warning, the photographer said.

The group also shouted slogans in favour of the imprisoned leader of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Abdullah Ocalan.

The Turkish government is under increasing pressure over how to tackle the hunger strike by around 700 Kurdish prisoners which is now in its 54th day.

The strike involves jailed politicians, mayors and parliamentarians, some of them senior figures in the BDP, which holds 29 of the 550 seats in the Turkish parliament, and also inmates accused of ties to the PKK.

The strikers are calling for the lifting of restrictions on the use of Kurdish language but their main demand is improved jail conditions for Ocalan, who is imprisoned on an island off Istanbul.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned hunger strikers against “blackmail” for the release of Ocalan, saying: “We will not release the terrorist chief just because you say so or resort to such an action.”

Read more: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2012/Nov-04/193832-police-tear-gas-hunger-strike-protesters-in-istanbul.ashx#ixzz2BKodid00
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)


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