Prisoners in Turkey launched a hunger strike against the prison isolation conditions of Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan and violations of rights in prisons that were taking place. As the hunger strike – which has spread to over 150 prisons – reached its 77th day, the families of the strikers continued to speak out about their concerns for their loved ones.
Gule Babahanlı and Ayşe Özer, the mothers of two hunger striking political prisoners Bilal Babahanlı and Ferhat Özer respectively, spoke to Jin News.
‘They transferred him another prison for no reason’
Gule Babahanlı’s son, Bilal Balahanlı, has been behind bars for seven years. His family still does not know why he was – and continues to be – imprisoned, since the only charge against him was based on a record of a telephone conversation, as his mother states. “The court sentenced my son to 47 years in prison for a phone call, this is all we know”, said Gule Balahanlı.
Bilal Balahanlı was first imprisoned in Turkey’s Muş province, where his family lives and had been able to visit him regularly, but when he was transferred to another prison facility – Patnos Prison in Ağrı (Agiri) – it negatively impacted his family’s ability to make visits.
“They transferred him to Patnos Type-L Closed Prison for no reason: it is far away from where we live and we cannot afford to travel to another city for each visit”, his mother said.
Prison visits have been restricted during the pandemic
Since there is no direct travel option using buses from Patnos to Muş, the Balahanlı family are forced to rent a car in order to see him. At the end of the long car drive, another painful process begins for the family in the prison. “I do not mind the long travel despite my old age, but the prison administration starts insulting us whenever we enter the facility building. They body-search us and do not let us in, even if we are carrying a simple napkin in our pockets”, Gule Babahanlı said.
She added: “The situation has worsened during the pandemic. We are not allowed to visit: we can only communicate via phone calls. He can’t share much on the phone, because they will punish him for that. I know that he is on hunger strike now and they all are protesting against the dreadful conditions in the prisons.As a mother, I demand that the state takes appropriate action. Their demands should be met”.
Ferhat Özer ‘was tortured when he was detained’
Ayşe Özer is another mother who is highly concerned about the well-being of her son. “My son, Ferhat Özer, has been imprisoned in Van High-Security Closed Prison for five years. He was tortured when he was detained and I know they beat him. Now, he is on a hunger strike against the prison isolation conditions [of Öcalan] and all these violations of rights in prisons”, she said.
She has also been mistreated by the prison administration whenever she has visited the prison to meet with her son. “If they treat us that way, I can’t begin to imagine how they treat our children”, she said.
‘There is no evidence’ against Ferhat in the file
Ayşe’s daughter Zehra Özer follows her brother’s trials and tribulations closely. The Özer family is one amongst several families who try to give voice to the demands of the hunger striking prisoners in Turkey, because they want to avoid any more pain and sufferring, Zehra noted. “My brother was given an aggravated life sentence based on ‘allegations’ that he has been ‘leading an organisation’. The lawyers have taken up his case to the Regional Court and the trial still continues. Although there is no evidence against him in the file, my brother has still been kept behind bars unlawfully for five years”, she said, adding: “We demand that the authorities hear the voices of the prisoners and accept their demands”.