Hunger strikes in Turkey’s prisons reaches ‘death threshold’

The hunger strike by prisoners convicted of PKK membership for better conditions and an end to “inhumane treatment” in Turkey’s prisons has reached the 48th day. According to the country’s Human Rights Association (IHD) the strike has reached the “death threshold”.

“There are serious rights violations in prisons. State of emergency has facilitated arbitrary practices. The death of Mehmet Yildizbakan [a prisoner who was suffering from illness] shows that inmates’ demands are legitimate,” IHD official Selcuk Coskun told Dihaber News Agency.

Political prisoners in Izmir’s Sakran Prison launched the hunger strike on 15 February demanding an end to the banning of books and social activities, prevention of social communion, isolation and raids on wards by guards. The strike has spread across several other prisons since.

A return to negotiations between the government and Kurdish political groups is also amongst demands, as well as a meeting with imprisoned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Meanwhile a group called the Prison Solidarity Initiative has released a statement saying hunger strikers and their relatives were attacked by prison guards in Sakran Prison on Monday after the meeting was cut down from 30 to 10 minutes.

Another IHD official has said conditions in prisons are reminiscent of the practices following the 1980 military coup in the country, during which dozens of inmates died due to torture.

“Prisoners have started the hunger strike as a last resort to put a stop to violations. This is a form of resistance, not suicide. From the letters they have written to us we can see that they have no more tolerance for the oppression and ill-treatment,” Necla Sengul, vice president of the human rights group told reporters in a press conference on Monday.

Imprisoned HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtas also joined the hunger strike from Edirne Maximum Security Prison on Friday. However following negotiations with prison authorities and promises that conditions would change he and other inmates who had been protesting for 35 days ended the strike.

Turkey’s Justice Ministry has been accused of turning a blind eye to the protest.

A 67 day hunger strike by hundreds of prisoners in 2012 was brought to an end after Turkish authorities lifted the isolation on Abdullah Ocalan, who then called for an end to the strike. The protest paved the way for negotiations and a 2-year ceasefire and solution process between the Turkish government and PKK.