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Turkey must listen to the demands of the hunger strikers
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Statement from Peace in Kurdistan campaign, 11 April 2017
Some 187 Kurdish political prisoners in 20 different prisons in Turkey are on hunger strike in protest over inhumane prison conditions, gross human rights violations such as solitary confinement and denial of basic rights such as a prison ban on books.

On top of demanding improved prison conditions, the hunger strikers want President Erdogan and the Turkish government to restart the peace talks with the Kurds and release PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan from his Imrali island jail where he has been held for 18 years for much of that time in solitary confinement. Ocalan’s isolation conditions have been toughened in recent months.
The HDP has warned that the situation is rapidly becoming critical with some of the hunger strikers “near death” after several weeks without food. Among those on indefinite hunger strike are 37 women.

The hunger strikes began on 15 February in Izmir Sakran high security prison but the actions have rapidly spread to other institutions around the country. Some of the hunger strikers have now been refusing food for approaching 60 days and as the days pass more of the prisoners are reaching a dangerous situation putting their lives at risk. Despite this the Turkish authorities have yet to respond.

Some supporters outside prison have taken part in their own temporary hunger strikes in solidarity with the prisoners in an effort to draw public attention to their plight and to urge the government in Ankara to respond to their demands. .
On 31 March, several high profile prisoners went on a temporary hunger strike, namely HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas, HDP MP Abdullah Zeydan, and Democratic Regions Party (DBP) co-chair Sebahat Tuncel.

The Kurdish community in London is now organising its own hunger strike to express its solidarity which will start today Tuesday 11am at 10 Downing Street.

Turkish human rights groups have been reporting a rise in abuses, torture and overcrowding within jails exacerbated by the mass arrests of Kurds and others following the attempted coup in July last year.

Historically, Turkish jails acquired a notorious reputation as places where prisoners endured extreme cruelty, systematic torture and degrading treatment.

Conditions have changed over recent years but with the current deepening social tensions in the country and the increasingly authoritarian politics pursued by the AKP, there are real fears of a return to the bad habits of the past when infringements of the human rights of prisoners were widespread.

The hunger strikers also demand an end to the savage attacks on Kurdish communities which are being carried out unchecked by military operations. A crackdown on the independent media has made it extremely difficult to monitor any abuses and violations occurring during these ongoing military and police actions in the Kurdish southeast.

The hunger strike comes at a time when conflict between Turkey and the Kurds has been worsening and when the country is embroiled in a divisive Referendum campaign to decide on constitution changes that will give President Erdogan extensive executive presidential powers. A Yes vote will be taken as public approval for Erdogan’s authoritarian politics, it will endanger parliamentary democracy and make a political solution with the Kurds more difficult to achieve.

For a brief period between 2013 and 2015 hopes were rising in Turkey for a political solution as peace talks between the state and the Kurds began to take place. In recent months, tensions have returned, Kurdish towns and villages have come under military siege, Kurdish mayors and MPs have been detained and violent conflict has gathered a relentless momentum.

Tensions have been accentuated even further following the failed coup because it has been exploited by the government as a pretext to launch a crackdown on anyone opposed to the AKP and its plans for an executive presidency. This crackdown has created a climate of fear where people realise that they risk arrest and prosecution simply for expressing criticism of Erdogan and his party’s Islamist political ideology.

It is an absolutely intolerable situation when political activists are compelled to conclude that the only option left open to them is to take desperate measures like going on hunger strike. Thus the hunger strike currently under way inside Turkey’s prisons is a reflection of a profound underlying crisis and deepening unresolved tensions.

Action is urgently needed to bring about a political solution. That must start with the resumption of political dialogue as the hunger strikers are demanding. Politicians inside Turkey and without must listen to the legitimate demands of the prisoners.

For information contact

Peace in Kurdistan: Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish Question


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