Turkey Kurds’ hunger strike on day 50: ‘This could be our last meeting’

The hunger strike by inmates in prisons across Turkey entered its 50th day on Wednesday.

Prisoners convicted of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Kurdistan Free Women’s Party (PAJK) membership launched the hunger strike on 15 February in Izmir’s Sakran Prison against worsening prison conditions and rights violations.

While 87 people in nine prisons are participating in the protest for an indefinite period of time, 5-day hunger strikes are being held in other prisons in solidarity.

The Free Lawyers Platform and Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD) have released statements saying the hunger strike has reached a “critical” point and “death threshold”.

According to a report in news site Gazete Karinca, an inmate in Sakran, Ozkan Yasar, told his father on 3 April that it could be the last time they would see him.

The hunger striker’s mother, Hazal Yasar, told the site that his son had struggled in walking as he entered the room during a prison visit.

“‘This could be our last visit’ he told his father. He could barely walk. That’s how bad their health conditions are,” Yasar said.

“I am a mother, I don’t want my child to die. Our children don’t want much. They petitioned prison authorities and requested for conditions to be improved but were refused saying, ‘You’re terrorists.'”

Another inmate Zana Yatkin’s sister, Muazzez Baykan, told Dihaber News Agency that her brother’s nails had gone black and that he constantly stared at the same point.

“It was as if he couldn’t see anything. He had dark eye-bags and his nails had gone black and blue. I couldn’t recognise him at first. But they were determined despite this. He told me, ‘We will continue until our demands are met.’ He called on public opinion to support the action.”

Civil society organisations and opposition political parties have called on the government to meet prisoners’ demands “before deaths occur.”

Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmakers were due to meet Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag on Monday to discuss prison conditions but the meeting was postponed to Friday. Several imprisoned HDP deputies have also gone on a 5-day strike in solidarity.

Amongst hunger strikers’ demands is also an end to the isolation of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and a return to peace negotiations.

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.