Demanding an end to the isolation of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan, who has been in Imralı Prison, a high security prison located on a remote island in the Marmara Sea since 1999, political prisoners across Turkey’s prisons have been engaged in a rotating hunger strike action since 27 November last year.
Elsewhere, in Greece’s Lavrio Camp, a solidarity linked hunger strike to support the demands of the prisoners in Turkey has reached its 186th day and in Makhmour (Mexmur) Camp, located in Iraqi Kurdistan, another solidarity linked hunger strike has reached its 203rd day.
As the rotating-indefinite hunger strike reached its 224th day, ANF spoke to Ekin Yeter, an administrative member of the Association of Lawyers for Freedom (OHD). OHD lawyers have been closely monitoring and reporting the violations of rights that the hunger striking prisoners have been subjected to since the beginning of their hunger strike.
Yeter shared the information that the hunger strike has spread to 107 prisons across Turkey. How does the rotating hunger strike work in practice? “In all prisons, prisoners go on a hunger strike on a five day rotation period. There are prisoners who have launched a five day hunger strike for the fourth time now,” he explained.
The longer the hunger strike continues, the greater the probability is that the prisoners who have already undertaken a hunger strike action will launch a new cycle of hunger strikes. As Yeter noted, some prisoners have gone on a hunger strike for a fourth time in this manner. This greatly increases the risk to their health and their very lives.
“Such a rotating hunger is also very risky for the health of the prisoners, especially considering their circumstances of overcapacity cells, the lack of hygene and the lack of healthy dietary food,” she said.
She clarified a misunderstanding – as she described it – that there is a perception amongst the public that prisoners have more than one demand. “Demanding an end to the isolation of Mr. Abdullah Öcalan and an end to the increasing violations of human rights are demands connected to each other,” she said.
“There is an isolation policy spreading from Imralı to other prisons. No matter how much they claim that the Emergency State [OHAL] is over, it continues in practice. When the right to have a visit, one’s social rights are violated and the right to send and receive information are considered all together, the violation of all these rights is a practice of isolation.”
According to Yeter, the hunger strike action is a last resort for all those who have been left with no other option but to demand their rights through these desperate means. “Since Roman times, since ancient Greek times, this form of protest has been witnessed in history. In Turkey, especially after the 1950s, we see people, especially prisoners, adopting protests of this kind. Whenever ‘solution channels’ are blocked, using this method, prisoners try to open these channels,” she said.
Considering the international laws that are also binding on Turkey, Yeter stated that the demand of the prisoners is not only legitimate, but also legal in terms of national and international law. “Turkey is a signatory to the Europen Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). The European Court of Human Rights also defines isolation as a form of torture. This is clear: these laws cannot be bent according to conjuncture, to the political conditions, to the states of peace and war. These laws are to be applied in all circumstances,” she said.
“Therefore, the demands of the hunger striking prisoners are legal, legitimate and must be accepted urgently. We must remember 2018-2019. Back then, again, thousands of prisoners risked their lives
and we faced deadlock for months. In order to not experience the same incidents, to not lose lives, authorities should take an urgent step and meet their demands.”