Prisoners on hunger strike are experiencing serious violations of rights and the situation has only worsened during the epidemic, members of the Hunger Strikes Monitoring Coordination have stated.
The indefinite, rotating hunger strike launched by political prisoners in Turkey – to protest against the prison isolation conditions of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan as well as the violations of prisoners’ rights more generally – has reached its 150th day. The hunger strikes, which began on 2 December 2020, continue in 107 prisons around Turkey.
On 15 March 2021 law and health organisations in Urfa (Riha) established a Hunger Strikes Monitoring Coordination to monitor prisoners on hunger strike and to prevent possible negative outcomes.
The members of the Coordination – Human Rights Association (İHD) Urfa Branch co-chair Mustafa Vefa, Health and Trade Union of Employees in Public Health and Social Services (SES) co-chair Eylem Salar, and Lawyers Association for Freedom (ÖHD) Prison Commission Spokesperson Serhat Kurt – spoke to the Mesopotamia News Agency about the latest situation in prisons and called for the government to pay attention to the demands.
‘Attorneys are not allowed to talk with their clients privately’
İHD Urfa Branch co-chair Mustafa Vefa noted that the violations of rights in prisons have increased since the pandemic, which prison administrations have used as an excuse to prevent political prisoners from exercising their rights. He said that even as a lawyer he cannot meet with his clients privately.
“The prison administration has to provide a place for us to meet with our clients,” said Vefa. “It should be a place where no one can hear or see us. However, it has to be done with a phone behind a glass pane. I am a lawyer, my conversation with my client must be confidential, but we know that they have been listening to the phone conversations and my clients cannot properly use their right to a defence. This is illegal.”
Vefa noted that other measures could be taken regarding the pandemic, but instead the right to speak with attorneys privately has been violated.
‘Health conditions in prisons are insufficient’
Social Service Workers Union (SES) co-chair Eylem Salar mentioned other problems faced by prisoners in their wards.
“The immune system of prisoners on hunger strikes is weaker than others. We demand that the prison administrations take the necessary measures, but sometimes they do not even provide clean water.”
She criticised the government for remaining silent on the hunger strikes. “The demands of the prisoners should be met urgently, and the government should take action.”
Isolation should be lifted
ÖHD Prison Commission spokesperson Serhat Kurt noted that after the phone call made between PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and his brother, which lasted for four-and-a-half minutes before being interrupted, the isolation conditions became harder in prisons.
“The prisoners demand the lifting of isolation and respect for their rights,” said Kurt. “They cannot even talk face to face with attorneys.”
He criticised the prison administrations for not taking the necessary steps to solve ongoing problems.
“The isolation, which has become absolute in all prisons, especially against Abdullah Öcalan, must be lifted as soon as possible. The pressure on political prisoners must be ended. As the ÖHD, we work in coordination with other human rights organisations. Our call is to the Ministry of Justice and Interior, they are the addressee of the prisoners’ demands. These demands are democratic and must be fulfilled as soon as possible before it is too late.”