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Turkey grants jailed PKK leader first family visit in two years

Ocalan's family will be allowed to visit him on his prison island over the Eid al-Adha holiday
People wearing Abdullah Ocalan T-shirts applaud on 5 September, 2016 in Diyarbakir before starting their hunger strike (AFP)

Turkey has granted permission to the family of jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan to visit him for the first time in two years, state media reported Saturday.

His family will be allowed to see Ocalan at his high security jail on the prison island of Imrali off Istanbul over the Eid al-Adha holiday beginning next week, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

Turkish media reports said this will be the first family visit Ocalan has been allowed since 6 October  2014. Anadolu said Ocalan would meet with his brother Mehmet.

The visit comes as a group of 50 Kurdish activists, including MPs, remain on hunger strike to protest about the lack of information on Ocalan's welfare.

Ocalan founded the armed PKK movement to fight for greater rights for Turkey's Kurds in the 1970s and led a bloody insurrection against the Turkish state that formally began in 1984.

He was captured in 1999 by Turkey's secret service in Kenya, put on trial and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 2002 when Turkey abolished the death penalty.

Ocalan held secret talks with top officials that resulted in the PKK declaring a ceasefire in 2013.

But this collapsed in 2015 and conflict is again raging in Turkey's Kurdish-dominated southeast.

Ocalan had until then met regularly with a delegation from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). But these trips halted with the renewed violence and the last such visit dates back to April 2015.

The last official visit to Ocalan was by a delegation of the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) in April 2016. It said there were just four prisoners held on Imrali, in the sea of Marmara.

The hunger strikers in the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir had said they would continue their strike until Ocalan's family or lawyers were allowed to visit the prisoner.

The HDP and the Imrali Committee, a group advocating for Ocalan’s release, had called for information on his condition after the failed coup in July, saying an “attack” on Ocalan by the “putschists” could “drag Turkey into an irreversible civil war".

“The security condition of Mr Ocalan is not an ignorable matter,” read a joint statement in July. 

“Besides his legal rights of family and lawyer visits, an independent committee is required to meet Mr Ocalan in order to satisfy the public concern about his conditions as immediately as possible.”

Unconfirmed rumours have spread, cited by the newspaper Cumhuriyet, of a possible plan by the plotters to kidnap Ocalan on the night of the coup.

Activists have started a hashtag #WeDemand2SeeOcalan out of concern for his welfare.

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