Abdullah Ocalan, jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has spoken on the phone with his brother for a “short” time after nearly a year of no contact, according to a statement from his lawyers.
The news follows recent rumours that Ocalan had died in jail.
Without naming his brother, Asrin Law Office, which represents Ocalan, said on Thursday that the phone call was “cut after a short time.”
Rumours circulated on social media on March 14 that Ocalan had passed away in prison, alarming both the leader’s family and his lawyers who have been uncertain of his health condition since Ocalan’s older brother Mehmet spoke with him on the phone on April 27, 2020.
Ocalan formed the PKK in 1978 and began its armed struggle against the Turkish state in 1984. Ankara considers it a terrorist organization and has conducted military operations against the group at home and abroad.
The PKK leader was imprisoned following his arrest in Nairobi in 1999. He was tracked down in the Kenyan capital after being expelled from Syria, where he was based from 1979 to 1998.
Ocalan’s nephew Omer Ocalan, a lawmaker for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), told reporters on March 16 that they were unaware of Ocalan’s state of health. He added that several requests to the government to see Ocalan had been left unanswered.
Despite being incarcerated on Imrali Island in the Sea of Marmara with limited access to his lawyers and family, the 73-year-old remains an influential figure for many Kurds, especially in Turkey and Syria.
He is held at Imrali along with three other PKK members – Omer Hayri Konar, Hamili Yildirim, and Veysi Aktas.
Asrin Law Firm said that Yildirim also spoke with his family but the call was “extremely short.”
The other two prisoners did not speak with their families as a protest against the long-standing restrictions imposed on them, the office added.
The PKK leader is rarely granted meetings with his lawyers or family. His last face-to-face meeting with his brother Mehmet was on March 3, 2020 following reports of a fire near the prison in which he is held.