Delegates at a British trade union conference in Bournemouth, U.K. have expressed support for imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan.
Members of the National Education Union (NEU), one of 14 major British trade unions which all together back the Freedom for Öcalan campaign, held up images of the imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan in a gesture of solidarity at their annual conference.
“The Trade Unions’ Freedom for Öcalan campaign warmly welcomed the magnificent action by one of its affiliated unions, the NEU,” Simon Dubbins, co-chair of the Freedom for Öcalan campaign, told MedyaNews.
“As the campaign has always said, it is only by freeing Abdullah Öcalan and allowing him to play the role that only he can play can we move towards a real, just and lasting peace in Turkey and the wider region,” Dubbins continued.
Abdullah Öcalan, the founding leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has been held under strict isolation in a prison on the isolated İmralı Island for virtually all of the past 23 years, following his 1999 capture by Turkish authorities.
Most recently, Öcalan’s lawyers were informed that he had been banned from meeting them for another three months due to what authorities called an extended disciplinary action as a result of supposed infractions of prison regulations.
The lawyers are also denied the opportunity to visit or speak with Öcalan, and say that they have had no contact at all with their client for the past year, and have described this isolation as itself as constituting a form of torture.
Baroness Christine Blower, the former National Union of Teachers General Secretary and co-chair of the Freedom for Öcalan campaign, said in a previous statement:
“Freedom for Öcalan is a campaign that we must continue to wage and which we must win. His incarceration has been compared with that of Nelson Mandela. As Mandela himself said, ‘a prisoner cannot negotiate, only a free man can’.”
British trade unions played an active role in the campaign to impose sanctions on South Africa, free Mandela, and bring about the fall of apartheid, with campaigners saying they aim to continue the same tradition in their support for Öcalan.
The gesture of solidarity at the NEU conference was welcomed by the Kurdish community in Britain.
“As with many trade unions across the United Kingdom, internationalism is a very important element of being a trade unionist,” Elif Sarıcan, co-chair of the U.K. Kurdish Assembly, told MedyaNews.
The NEU conference was an important display of solidarity with the Kurdish people, Sarıcan said, adding that Öcalan’s freedom was one of the conference’s most central demands.