Published by Morning Star on the 19th of April 2017

The situation for human rights in Turkey is dire, and on course to become much worse, says ROSA GILBERT

YESTERDAY (18/4/17), a hunger strike in Turkish prisons by Kurdish political prisoners was called off after 62 days — a number of hunger strikers had gone blind and were approaching death.

The Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), representing Kurds in Turkey and northern Syria, asked prisoners to come off hunger strike as the conditions within prisons have been brought to international attention and they are able to continue this struggle through other means.

As time was running out, international solidarity did indeed heighten — solidarity hunger strikes started in Brighton, London and Cardiff last Tuesday April 11.

On Monday, RMT assistant general secretary Steve Hedley and national executive member Eddie Dempsey visited the solidarity tent outside Finsbury Park at the invitation of the Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign where they pledged their support and their willingness to take up a symbolic two-day hunger strike this weekend.

The situation in Turkish prisons is at breaking point. In an atmosphere of massive human rights violations, perpetrated behind the cover of the state of emergency declared last July, the Turkish government jailed political opponents and critical journalists in the build-up to Sunday’s constitutional referendum on increased presidential powers for the authoritarian ruler Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Despite this, the Yes vote only managed to win with a small majority among accusations of irregularities and voter fraud, with the Turkish electoral board declaring unstamped ballots to be valid.

Turkey’s three main cities — Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir — all voted No. In Britain, the No vote among the Turkish diaspora was almost 80 per cent.

Among those jailed by Erdogan’s despotic regime are Figen Yuksekdag and Selahattin Demirtas, the co-leaders of the third-biggest parliamentary party in Turkey, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), along with pro-Kurdish politicians, activists, and journalists.

Turkey remains one of the worst countries in the world for journalistic freedom as even insulting the president can result in prosecution and imprisonment.

Conditions within Turkish prisons have been flagged by the likes of Amnesty International which has received multiple complaints about serious overcrowding and the arbitrary use of solitary confinement for punitive control.

Most notably, solitary confinement has been used against Kurdish political prisoners, including the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, who has been held incommunicado on Imrali, a prison island, prompting multiple violations of the European Convention of Human Rights. Worryingly, Erdogan will most likely now seek to reintroduce the death penalty in Turkey.

Thirteen prisoners in Sakran prison initiated the hunger strike 64 days ago and in the meantime 206 prisoners joined them.

The hunger strike revolved around the demand that prison conditions of political prisoners should be improved, the incommunicado detention of Ocalan should be abolished, and repression of Kurds, including unfair and arbitrary detentions and prosecutions, should end. An initiative formed by civil society groups including Human Rights Association and Human Rights Foundation of Turkey who visited the hunger strikers reported that medical checks of hunger strikers were not done regularly and properly. Hunger strikers also faced degrading and inhumane treatment by prison guards and other prison officials.

Educational, sports and cultural activities of other political prisoners have also been suspended in some prisons.

The hunger strikes mark the latest episode of the deteriorating human rights situation in Turkey since the June 7 elections in 2015, when the leftwing pro-Kurdish HDP increased its vote and became Turkey’s third-largest party.

Since then, the government practically abandoned the peace process with the PKK and bombarded and killed thousands of civilians as well as armed youth in Kurdish towns and cities which were eventually completely flattened. HDP MPs and dozens of Kurdish mayors were arrested and their municipalities were taken over by the government. The imprisonment of political activists and journalists is part of Erdogan’s attempt to criminalise the Kurdish people, its culture and language.

In doing so, he seeks to avoid a political solution to the Kurdish question and the desire for rights of the minority community in Turkey.

On Monday, hunger strikers released a statement on the anniversary of the Easter Rising honouring republican hunger striker Bobby Sands.

“Even if all of us were to fall as martyrs through melting piece by piece we will not stop our action. What will stop this action is not our death but the loud voice of our leadership.

“We as the followers of Kemal and Hayri and the lovers of Bobby Sands call on all those with a conscience to give a voice to our cry. Just a voice.

“Regardless of the price, the victory of our determination will give meaning and value to life.”

The hunger strikes in Ireland in 1981 gained huge international solidarity and humiliated the Thatcher government as it left an elected member of the British Parliament to die in prison.

In order to strike a blow against the tyrannical Turkish government, it is essential that the political prisoners in Turkey get as much international solidarity as possible.

As political prisoners continue to suffer in Turkish jails, silence amounts to complicity with the newly empowered fascist regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Be a voice against silence.