For the past several months, thousands of Kurds and their allies have been holding hunger strikes to demand an end to the imprisonment and solitary confinement of Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party’s (PKK). He has been held at the island prison of Imrali since 1999, following his conviction for treason.
The majority of the hunger strikers are Kurdish prisoners in 90 Turkish prisons. The protest actions have been going on since November 2018, when the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) lawmaker, Leyla Guven, began her hunger strike in prison. Guven continued her hunger strike at home after obtaining a conditional release in January. The strike has entered its 199th day.
Dozens of others joined the hunger strike from outside of prison, including three other lawmakers. 15 of the strikers, who are in prison, announced at the end of April that they would continue the strike until death if necessary. 30 have refused all forms of nutrition and medical intervention till their demands are fulfilled.
On May 2, Öcalan’s lawyers were able to visit with him in prison. This was the first such meeting allowed by Turkey in eight years. 810 requests for similar meetings with either the lawyers or the family members had been rejected in the the previous years. Ocalan’s family members and relatives have also faced very harsh restrictions when it comes to communicating with him. His brother was allowed to meet him in January after two-and-a-half years.
Öcalan’s lawyers were given permission to see him for a second time on May 22. Ibrahim Bilmez, a member of Öcalan’s legal team, said that the details of the meeting cannot be disclosed currently.
The banned PKK, for its part, has made clear that the hunger strikes will continue until Öcalan’s isolation is ended and he is given free and regular access to his lawyers and family.
Hunger strikes, demonstrations, marches, sit-ins, and other organized events have also been held in other parts of the world, including Rome, Italy, Delemont, Switzerland and Brussels. Kurds in Belgium, Germany, France and the Netherlands have also taken out rallies in support of the prisoners.
In a one-of-its-kind protest, mothers of the prisoners on hunger strike have started organizing sit-ins in cities across Kurdistan and Turkey to highlight Ocalan’s isolation and the prisoners’ deteriorating health condition. Despite state suppression and police blockades, mothers in the Kurdish city of Amed have been gathering in the central district of Baglar and holding a vigil for more than 22 days. Many of the relatives of prisoners have also been organizing sit-ins in parks, in front of closed factories, as well as outside state prisons and women-only prisons.