Ocalan Risks Mental Damage Experts Say

STRASBOURG–France (Reuters)–European human rights observers have recommended that Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan be given a radio and reading material to ward off damage to his mental health while in a remote Turkish jail.

The delegation from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture has also urged the Turkish authorities to freely allow visits by Ocalan’s relatives and find him a better exercise area–the Council of Europe said on Tuesday.

The delegation visited Ocalan on March 2 in his high-security jail on the island of Imrali–where he has been the sole prisoner since his capture in February.

The Strasbourg-based council–which promotes democracy and human rights across Europe–said it released the observers’ findings only after Ankara authorized their publication.

Ocalan is scheduled to go on trial on May 31 on charges of treason–which can be punishable in Turkey by death.

He is accused of leading the 14-year-old armed campaign by his Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) for self-rule in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast. Some 29,000 Kurds–soldiers and civilians have died in the conflict.

Though it has not executed a criminal since the mid-1980s–Ankara has kept capital punishment on its law books despite a Council of Europe ban on the death penalty in its member states.

Ocalan’s trial is being closely watched by Europe and the United States–which want him to get a fair and open trial.

The European delegation was satisfied after interviewing Ocalan that he was not at risk of physical ill treatment but his "psychological state was not good," the council said.

Though the authorities have since informed the group that Ocalan was being seen regularly by a psychiatrist–he needs a radio–newspapers and books and visits from relatives to maintain his mental health–it said.

The outdoor exercise area used by Ocalan "is of rather claustrophobic design" and its sandy surface and limited size "do not facilitate real physical exertion," the observers added–urging access to a bigger and better equipped area.

But prison authorities were strongly opposed to this on security grounds–the council said.

Ocalan’s trial has been set for May 31. Lawyers defending Ocalan were beaten Monday by anti-Kurd demonstrators.

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