Twenty years have passed since the “Return to Life” operation was carried out simultaneously in 20 different Turkish prisons. On 19 December 2000, hundreds of soldiers and police took part in the attacks against hundreds of prisoners who were on hunger strike to protest the transition to F-type prisons. A total of 32 detainees and two soldiers lost their lives in the attacks, which was described by Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit as “saving terrorists from their own terror”.
Stating that the main purpose of the “Return to Life” operation was to put the community in solitary confinement, Fatime Akalın, who was a prisoner at the time, told the Mesopotamia Agency (MA) that the pressure on society today can be traced back to that operation.
Cell-type applications in prisons were first attempted in Eskişehir in 1989, but were rejected after objections. In 1996, with the decree of the Minister of the Interior, Mehmet Ağar, prisoners whose trials were still ongoing were moved to other cities and forced into cell-type prisons. Political prisoners started a hunger strike in dozens of prisons to protest against their situation. As a result of the strike, in which 11 people lost their lives, the state was forced to step back.
The main cell-type prison system was first designed on 15 February 1999 for the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan.
Hundreds of prisoners started a hunger strike to protest the new system, but it turned into a death fast after a short while. The call made by dozens of intellectuals, political parties, unions, associations, human rights defenders and organisations to the government to meet the demands of the detainees yielded results. Although certain promises were made during meetings with the then Minister of Justice, Hikmet Sami Türk, they were not kept, and on the morning of 19 December, the “Return to Life” operation started across 20 prisons.
Lawsuits filed against the soldiers participating in the operation resulted in acquittals. The lawsuits filed against hundreds of injured prisoners resulted in severe prison sentences. The lawsuit filed for the operations in Ümraniye Prison was concluded last year. Due to the lack of evidence in the case, all the defendants were acquitted. The file is currently at the appeal stage.
Fatime Akalın, one of the witnesses of the 19 December operation in Niğde Prison said, “The isolation policies that were intended to be carried out on 19 December started in Ulucanlar on 26 September. When the massacre happened, I was in Niğde prison. The state continued to take steps to enter the cell-type prison back then. The aim was to isolate people, to dehumanise society by dividing and disintegrating us. We had started a death fast resistance to prevent this. At a certain stage of the resistance, they carried out the operation they called ‘Return to Life'”.
‘The only solution is unity’
Akalın believe the only solution is unity: “We should all come together as a wall against the authoritarian regime without highlighting our differences. Today, this repressive regime may have cornered us, but the only way to get out of this corner is to take each other’s arms, side by side”.