Campaign "No to the death penalty - Peace now":

Turkey - Death Penalty and the Ocalan Trial (October 2001)

This paper consists of two parts. Part one delineates death penalty as it is legally implemented and applied in Turkey. Part two discusses death penalty with a view to the Ocalan case.
I. Death Penalty in Turkey

Turkey is the only member country of the Council of Europe, whose penal code still contains capital punishment.

Legal regulations concerning the death penalty

The Turkish Penal Code (TCK) came into force on 3-1-1926 and its central regulations have only been slightly changed ever since.

Even before the TCK came into force, i.e. during the time it was still being prepared, 1923 to 1926, there is evidence that many thousand people have been executed.

Today 41 articles all over the Turkish law deal with capital punishment. Juveniles under eighteen are excepted but there is no age limit otherwise.

It is not only the penal code (as an elementary law), which contains regulations concerning the death penalty. There are also particular laws like the Military Penal Code (law no. 632), the Prohibition of Contraband and its Prosecution (law no. 1918), and the Narcotics Control Law (no. 2313). Death penalty has even been embedded in the so-called "Forest-Law" (no. 4114).

Following the Turkish EU-Candidacy a new discussion on the abolition of the death penalty did commence but presently only limited reforms seems possible.

The execution of the death penalty

Since 1984 many death sentences have been handed, none of which have been executed, though. Death sentences have to be confirmed by the parliament. Excepting times of military rule in Turkey there have been 567 confirmations by parliament since 1923 resulting in the official execution of 717 people.

The files of 57 people who have been sentenced to death since 1984 have been handed to parliamentary sub-commissions where they are retained.

The death sentence for Abdullah Ocalan, however, has been dealt with differently. Mr Ocalan has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which has accepted his appeal. Thus the judgment has not been put before the parliament but instead to the office of the prime minister due to an injunction of the ECHR to suspend any proceedings until the ECHR would have handed its decision.

II. The Ocalan Case


Following an international under-cover operation during which Ocalan was apprehended in Kenya on 15 February 1999 he was eventually extradited to Turkey and put to trial. After a one-month trial he was sentenced to death on 31 May 1999. His lawyers appealed against the decision. The court of cassation, however, confirmed the decision of the penal court on 25 November 1999. Now the only road open was an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, an organ created by the Council of Europe in order to secure the rights and obligations laid down in the European Convention on Human Rights of which Turkey is a signatory state.

Their complaint comprised twelve articles of the European Constitution allegedly having been violated. Since all domestic remedies had been exhausted a request for an interim was filed with the court to order a suspension of the execution in Turkey until the ECHR would come to a decision. On 30-11-1999 the first chamber of the ECHR complied with the lawyers' request. In January 2000 the Turkish coalition government agreed to a suspension and ordered the file to be retained at the office of the prime minister pending the proceedings of the European Court. The trial then began on November 21st 2000 and about a month later the court announced that it had accepted the application and set May 31st 2001 as the date for the beginning of the main proceedings. Due to technical reasons and the expressed wish of both parties to have more time to prepare their cases the first day of the proceedings was eventually set to September 28th 2001.

The Kurdish Question

The Ocalan case is deeply intertwined with the Kurdish question, human rights deficiencies in Turkey, and a more general discussion of the death penalty in terms of a Turkish EU-candidacy, and, of course, the Turkish membership to the Council of Europe.

Throughout the history of the Turkish Republic there have been numerous Kurdish uprisings and rebellions (twenty-eight officially) that in turn have been knocked down forcefully and mercilessly by the Turkish authorities. The Kurdish ethnical identity was not recognised, their language banned. Mr Ocalan, obviously, is the primary responsible for the last revolt, an armed confrontation that began as early as 1980. In the course of this conflict Mr Ocalan has expressed his readiness for a democratic and peaceful solution many times. The then (and now) prevailing political powers in Turkey blocked all attempts to solve this conflict and its underlying social and political problems. On the contrary. Thousands of Kurdish villages have been burnt down, millions of people have been forcibly displaced. The perpetrators of thousands of extralegal executions of political opponents have never been arraigned.

The Debate on Ocalan and Capital Punishment in Turkey

For several years the necessity of a broad reformation of law has been discussed. This includes a reformatory draft of the Turkish penal code that also contained the abolition of capital punishment. This draft, however, has never been put into law. Many politicians among them members of the current government have voiced their readiness to abolish capital punishment. They were widely supported by academic law circles, organisations of civil society, bar associations, and judges. The extradition of Ocalan to Turkey changed the climate, though. Even the more progressive parts of Turkey's political elite now seemed to be doubtful on this issue.

And when the ECHR suspended the execution for the time being capital punishment was removed from the agenda until the court would hand its decision. These intentions were thrown over when Turkey was made candidate country to the EU, the abolition of death penalty being a prerequisite to full membership. The "Copenhagen Criteria" closed in upon Turkey and while some still wanted to hang Ocalan - and still do today - others stressed the European perspective, with president Sezer in the forefront arguing it would be better to get rid of the death penalty before an abolition was enforced by either the EU or the Council of Europe. This statement was echoed by the prime minister and the minister of justice as well as by the Human Rights Committee of the Foreign Office. The death penalty was to be abolished during the present parliamentary term.

Meanwhile, October 2001, the parliament has passed a bill restricting capital punishment to times of emergency and terrorism, i.e. article 125 of the Turkish penal code and as a result of this the Ocalan verdict will remain in place.

The so-called National Programme, a number of measures intended to facilitate Turkey's access to the EU, regards the abolition of death penalty only as a medium term goal.
To many Turkish politicians it seems a matter of course, however, that the Ocalan file must be put on the parliamentary agenda again as soon as the European Court has pronounced its final decision. Then, after the execution of the Ocalan verdict that the parliament must approve of - and this is what "medium term goal" really means - death penalty may be abolished.


Both the Council of Europe and the European Union must make it clear to Turkey that the complete and irrevocable abolition of capital punishment is a prerequisite even to the beginning of access negotiations. Additionally, this would be a step towards a modern democracy and respect of human rights. The Ocalan case may pose an opportunity to decisively move into this direction.
It was Abdullah Ocalan who paved the way for a democratic solution to the Kurdish question, which is the most difficult and complicated socio-political problem in the history of the republic. Thus, for his capability of integration and for his role as a representative of the Kurdish people, he is more than ever indispensable for a democratic future in a modern Turkey.

First signatories of the Campaign "No to the death penalty! - Peace now!":

Netherlands Helsinki Committee (Netherlands), Prof. Dr. Noam Chomsky (linguist / writer / USA), John Curl (PEN Oakland / USA), Margaret Drabble (vice-president of English PEN / UK), Michael Holroyd (biograph / historian / vice-president of English PEN / UK), Moris Farhi (chair of Writers in Prison Comittee / International PEN / UK), Elliot Phillip (wirter / UK), Omar Sheikmous (writer / UK), Sheri Laizer (film-maker and writer / UK), Eric Beardsley, Alice Glenday, Jessie Munro, Denys J. Trussell (writers / PEN New Zealand), Marilyn Murray-York (journalist / PEN / New Zealand), Adrian Mitchell (poet / UK), Mimi Khalvati (Irian poet / UK), H.J. Firth (writer / historian / UK), Kiyoshi Nakagawa (writer / Japan), Uri Avnery (former member of the Knesset / Gush Shalom / Israel), Pierre Yonckheer (vice-president / MEP / France), Didier Claude Rod (MEP / France), Lucio Manisco, Giovanni Claudio Fava, Leoluca Orlando, Luisa Morgantini, Gianni Vattimo, Luigi Vinci (MEP / Italy), Luigi Colaianni (former president of the European Parliament PDS group / Italy), Gilles Savary, Jasmine Boudjenah, Harlem Désir (MEP / France), John Bowis, Baroness Sarah Ludford, Pauline Green (MEP / UK), Dr. André Brie, Dr. Helmuth Markov, Karin Scheele, Feleknas Uca (MEP / Germany), Hans Modrow (honorary president of PDS / MEP / Germany), M. Papayannakis, Efstratios Korakas, Anna Karamanou (MEP / Greece), Jens Dyhr Okking (MEP / Denmark), Matti Wuori (vice-president / MEP / Finland), Heidi Hautala (MEP / Finland), Marianne Eriksson (MEP / Sweden), Erik Meijer, Jan Joost Lagendijk (MEP / Netherlands), Laurence Van de Walle (MEP / Belgium), Concepció Ferrer (MEP / Spain), Dr. Heiner Geißler (ex-secretary general of the Christian Democratic Party / MP / Germany), Rainer Arnold, Rainer Brinkmann, Ulla Jelpke, Heidi Lippmann, Prof. Dr. Christa Luft, (MP / Germany), Stefano Boco (Senator / vice-president of the foreign affairs commission / Italy), Giovanni Russo Spena (senator / PRC / Italy), Marie-Hélène Aubert (MP / les Verts / France), Domenico Gallo (former Senator / Magistratura Democratica / Italy), Dany Smeets (member of the parliament of Wallonie / Belgium), T. G. Avaliani, A. A. Turusin, P. T. Burdukov, S.S. Mitrokhin, V. V. Kuroghkin, I. I. Nikitchuk, Z. A. Kornilova, V. I Shandybin, A. A. Kuvayev, (members of the Duma / Russia), A. I. Yaroshenko (Committee on Geopolitical Issues / Duma / Russia), B.L. Eremeyewsky (Health Committee / Duma / Russia), Timchenko, I. M Galaiev (expert / Duma / Russia), V. V. Kudiaso, V. N. Malcev, K. N. Sakalav, U. N. Teryokin (adviser / Duma / Russia), E. G. Davidova (journalist / Russia), R. I. Spektor (chairman of presidium, Congress of National Unions of Russia), I. A. Fuki (president of Russian Peoples League), A. E. Dvoryansky (president of International Bioinformatic Center / Russia), K.G. Polidis (member of International Trade Unions Council / Russia), A. Grigoryewitch (vice-president of Russian United National Congress / Russia), Lord Rea, Lord Hylton (House of Lords / UK), John Austin, Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone, Lynne Jones (MP / UK), Marc Phillips (president of National Party of Wales / UK), Tommy Sheridan (member of Scottish Parliament / Socialist Party / UK), Robin Harpen (member of Scottish Parliament, Green Party / UK), Bruno Aigner, Mag. Terezija Stoisits, Dr. Madeleine Petrovic (members of Federal Parliament / Austria), Gerhard Kilger (secretary of SPÖ / Federal Parliament / Austria), Søren Søndergaard, Keld Albrechtsen, Frank Aaen, Jette Gottlieb, Søren Kolstrup (members of Folketing / Red-Green Alliance / Denmark), Margot Torp (member of Folketing / Social Democrat Party / Denmark), Ion Mânzânâ, Ioan Sonea (senators / Romania), Valentin-Adrian Iliescu, Nicu Vasilescu, Prof. Gheorghe Yalceanu, Dimitriu Sandu, Viorel Burlacu, Constantin Baban, Viorel Pop, Constantin-Eremia Cotrutz (members of Parliament / Romania) Joe Tripodi (member of NSW Parliament / Australia), Julia Irwin (member of Federal Parliament / Australia), Hugo van Rompaey (honorary senator / Belgium), Michael Guilbert (member of Wallonian Parliament / Belgium), Jan Loones (member of Flamish Parliament / Belgium), G. Dallemagne (MP / Belgium), Dr. Ursula Hafner (president / SPS groop / Federal Assembly / Switzerland), Regula Brügger (SPS group secretary / Federal Assembly / Switzerland), Regine Aeppli, Hildegard Fässler-Ostwalder, Angeline Fankhauser, Jacqueline Fehr, Barbara Geiser, Dr. Ruth Gonseth, Barbara Haering-Binder, Pia Hollenstein, Dr. Ursula Leemann, Liliane Maury-Pasquier, Maria Roth-Bernasconi, Silva Anita Semadeni, Franziska Teuscher, Dr. Ruth Gaby Vermot-Mangold, Agnes Weber, Fredi Alder, Michel Béquelin, Dr. Fraçois Borel, Andreas Gross, Dr. Paul Günter, Dr. Armin Jans, Peter Jossen, Ernst Leuenberger, Werner Marti, Dr. Rudolf Rechsteiner, Jean-Claude Rennwald, Dr. Victor Ruffy, Rudolf H. Strahm, Dr. Hans Widmer, (MP / National Council / Switzerland), Pierre-Alain Gentil, Dr. Thomas Onken, Prof. Dr. Gian-Reto Plattner (MP / Upper Chamber / Switzerland), Jean-François Steinert (secretary general / Social Democrat Party / Switzerland), Mario Carera (former president / Parti Socialiste Vaudois / Switzerland), N. Kortvelyessy (secretary general / European Federation of Green Parties / UK), Ersilia Salvato (vice-president / Senate / Italy), Jim Mortimer (former secretary general / Labour Party / UK), Mag. Walter Baier (president / KPÖ / Austria), Heidi Ambrosch (vice-president / KPÖ / Austria), Prof. W. Thompson (School of Social Sciences / Glasgow University / UK), Prof. Albrecht K. Konecny (scientist / Austria), Prof. Dr. Gerhard Stuby (public law expert / University of Bremen / Germany), Prof. Dr. Wolf-Dieter Narr (politologist / Freie Universität Berlin / Germany), Mag. Tobias Abse (historian / university lecturer / UK), Prof. Michael Gunter (lecturer / Tennessee Technical University / USA), Dr. Burhan Elturan (counselor / Indiana University / USA), Dr. A. M. Young (scientist / UK), Prof. Bruno Nascimbene (chair of international law / University of Milan / Italy), Prof. Antonio Papisca (director / Center of Humanitarian and International Law / University of Padua / Italy), Prof. Iwao Kamozawa (Urawa / Japan), Dr. Andreas Buro (co-ordinator / Dialogue Circle "War in Turkey - Time for a Political Solution" / Germany), Michael Feeney (Westminster Diocese / UK), Dominique Tricaud (attorney at law / general secretary of the French Committee / Helsinki Federation for Human Rights / France), H. Brilmaker (secretary general of The Human rights League / Belgium), Hans Branscheidt (Medico International / Appell von Hannover / Germany), Hans Bogenreiter (member of council / Society for Threatened Peoples / Austria), Prof. Kevin Boyle (director / Human Rights Centre / Essex University / UK), Bruce Kent (president / International Peace Bureau / UK), Luciano Ardesi (International League for the Rights and Liberation of People / Italy), Tonio Dell'Olio (National secretary of the Pax Christi movement / Italy), Giulio Marcon (president of the Italian Solidarity Consortium / Italy), Felicitas Langer (Israelian laywer / Germany), Parvin Darabi (Dr. Homa Daribi Foundation / Canada), Christine Blower (ex-president / National Union of Teachers NUT / UK), Robert Sulatycki (secretary of Kensington and Chelsea NUT / UK), Hugh MacGrillen (London region secretary of MSF Trade Union / UK), Onay Kasab (UNISON Health Trade Union / UK), John Foster (general secretary / National Union of Journalists NUJ / UK), John Toner (northern region officer / National Union of Journalists / UK), P. Vigger (Ealing Trades Union Council and Greater London Association of Trades Councils / UK), Ian MacDonald (Queens Council barrister / UK), Roland Wanitschka (council member / ÖTV Trade Union / Germany), Ken Cameron (general secretary / FBU Fire Brigades Union / UK), ASLEF (Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen / UK), Alessandra Mecozzi (International office of CGIL trade union / Italy), Susanne Zbären-Lüthi (secretary general / Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture ACAT / Switzerland), M. Rafael Jocha (ACAT / Spain), Marie-Hélène Blanc (director of ACAT / Canada), Louis Lafleur (photographer / ACAT / Canada), Göpf Berweger (Society for Threatened Peoples / Switzerland), Dr. Mauro di Vieste (Society for Threatened Peoples / Southern Tirol / Italy), Yohel T. Kanna (president / Assyrian-Australian Associaton / Niniveh Club / Australia), Christa Stolle (secretary / Terre des Femmes / Germany), Dr. Karl Martin (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Association / Germany), Onnik Krikorian (photojournalist / UK), Maurice Obeid (editor and chief / El Telegraph Newspaper / Australia), U. A. Hoklov (journalist / Duma / Russia), Will Archer (teatre producer / UK), Jan Fermon (lawyer / Belgium), I. N. Petrowsky (president / International Communist Movement / Russia), Ronald Ofteringer (Information Project Near and Middle East / Germany), Mehmet Sahin (managing director / Dialogue Circle "War in Turkey - Time for a Political Solution" / Germany), Maria Jepsen (evangelic Bishop / Germany, Peter Gingold (federal speaker / Alliance of Victims of the Nazi Regime / Germany), Heiko Kauffmann (speaker / PRO ASYL / Germany), Kambiz Behbahani (journalist / LAG Immigrants and Refugees Berlin / Germany), Dr. Ernst-Ludwig Iskenius (German Peace Society / Baden-Württemberg / Germany)

The Camapaign "No to the death penalty! - Peace now!" is initiated by International Initiative "Freedom vor Ocalan - Peace in Kurdistan", E-Mail:, Url: