Tue 11 Jun, 2019

Ross Greer MSP has demanded answers from social media giant Instagram after it censored two of his posts referring to imprisoned Kurdish leader Adbullah Ocalan, whose treatment at the hands of Turkish authorities has recently been ruled to violate international human rights laws.

Mr Greer’s first post was of a photo he had taken featuring a mural dedicated to Mr Ocalan by the Falls Road in West Belfast. The mural calls for the Kurdish leader’s release, features a quote in which Ocalan calls for peace in Turkey and sits alongside a similar mural of Nelson Mandela (posted 15 February and removed 10 May). 

The second post featured a photo of the MSP addressing a demonstration outside the Scottish Parliament which raised attention to Mr Ocalan’s isolated imprisonment and the wave of hunger strikes, including by UK citizens, which demanded Mr Ocalan be allowed access to his lawyers and family members (posted 4 April and removed 4 June).

Abdullah Ocalan has been held by the Turkish government on Imrali island prison for twenty years, during which time he has been subject to extreme solitary confinement, a recognised form of torture which runs counter to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the ‘Mandela Rules’. 

Both the European Court of Human Rights (EHCR) and the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) have found that Mr Ocalan’s rights have been violated by the conditions of his imprisonment, including by the period of a number of years, ended in recent weeks, in which Mr Ocalan’s lawyers and more recently his family were denied access to him, despite over eight hundred separate requests by his lawyers. This isolation was the focus of the CPT’s latest report, published in March 2018. 

Ocalan is recognised by many millions of Kurds as a leader in their struggle for basic rights and freedoms. He is also a noted advocate of radical models of democracy, placing particular emphasis on the role of women at every level of society. During attempts in 2015 to negotiate a peaceful settlement between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers Party, PKK, Ocalan strongly advocated for peace and dialogue. The attempted negotiations were subsequently aborted by the Turkish government. 

Mr Greer has demanded that Instagram executives answer a number of questions, namely; why they removed the two posts, whether they allow users to support rulings of the ECHR or Committee for the Prevention of Torture and an explanation of how Instagram’s policy in regards to Mr Ocalan compares to that of comparable figures such as Nelson Mandela or those who negotiated Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement. The Green MSP has also pressed Instagram to explain whether they support the ability of elected representatives ‘to freely express views in support of peace and human rights’ on their platform.

Ross Greer MSP said:

“Censoring elected representatives is a move usually left to authoritarian regimes, so Instagram have a lot of explaining to do here. Perhaps they could start by telling us what their problem is with posts which support the rulings of international human rights organisations? What’s made them look particularly foolish in this instance is their censoring a message which the Turkish government, responsible for the abuses, has since complied with. There is no credible basis for censoring an elected representative who is expressing support for peace and human rights, especially when it looks like a cack-handed attempt to curry support from Turkey’s increasingly brutal regime.

“Abdullah Ocalan is a leader to millions of Kurds across the world. His advocacy of peace, democracy and women’s empowerment has inspired people far beyond his own community and his treatment at the hands of the Turkish government has been in consistent violation of international law. Even the recent access to his lawyers, denied for years, does not resolve the issue of his unfair trial and his isolated detention. If the Turkish government wants peace, they should embrace Ocalan’s calls for exactly that, rather than lock him up on an island in an attempt to silence him. Instagram appearing to side with that is not a good look.”

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