Birnberg Peirce secures retrial for imprisoned Kurdish leader

Human rights specialists Birnberg Peirce and Brick Court Chambers’ Sir Sydney Kentridge QC have won a significant European court victory for a Kurdish leader sentenced to death in Turkey.

On Thursday (12 May) the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) handed down its decision in Abdullah Ocalan’s appeal.

Ocalan, a Kurdish rebel, had been tried for treason in 1999 and convicted, after his involvement in a war between his rebel group and Turkish security forces. He was sentenced to death, although this was later commuted to a life sentence and Ocalan became the sole inmate at a high-security prison on Turkey’s Imrali Island.

The ECHR found that Ocalan’s original death sentence amounted to inhuman treatment, affirming an 18 March 2003 judgment which said that capital punishment is “unacceptable” and has “no legitimate place in a democratic society”.

The court also decided that Ocalan’s rights to a fair trial had been violated, and said a retrial would be an appropriate form of redress. It directed that costs of 120,000 euros be paid to Ocalan’s lawyers.

Birnberg Peirce name partner Gareth Peirce was instructed by the Kurdish Human Rights Project on behalf of Ocalan. In turn she instructed Kentridge and 20 Essex Street junior Tim Otty.