Hundreds of prisoners incarcerated in the country's prisons for various crimes, including membership of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and its Iranian offshoot, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), are currently on a hunger strike to demand improvements in the prison conditions of Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK currently being held on İmrali Island, as well as the right to receive education and address courts of law in their mother tongue, Kurdish.
Although the government has repeatedly called on the strikers to end their protest, participants appear determined to achieve their goals, some having now been on strike for over 60 days, sparking concerns for their health among the public. The protest has become a hotly debated topic among politicians, deepening with further commentary on Sunday.
Addressing the people in Trabzon on Sunday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the death fasts are all blackmail, bluff and show.
Regarding the recent joining of some pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputies, Erdoğan said: “Now the BDP deputies have started a hunger strike. They can do whatever they want. Our duty is certain. We are responsible for providing necessary medical services to those people. … We are determined not to succumb to any blackmail or bluff.”
On Saturday, several Kurdish politicians announced that they had joined the strike. Diyarbakır Mayor Osman Baydemir said in a statement that he had stopped eating, adding that BDP Co-chairperson Gülten Kışanak and Deputies Aysel Tuğluk, Sırrı Süreyya Önder, Sabahat Tuncer and Adil Kurt were also on hunger strike. The Kurdish deputies decided to join the strike on the grounds that the government has taken no steps to meet the demands of the protestors. Two further BDP deputies, Emine Ayna and Özdal Üçer, had joined the action on Thursday.
Also commenting on the hunger strike crisis, Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek, who spoke to reporters following an event held on Sunday, said the government clearly does not want to see any citizen afflicted with an ailment even as slight as a nosebleed. He further remarked that the prime minister, president and other politicians have been saying what needs to be said on the issue, and that it would be wrong for the strikers to take the protest any further.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday, main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu blamed Erdoğan for the hunger strike. Stating that the government has failed to adequately handle the issue, Kılıçdaroğlu called on the prime minister to use softer language, as his stern rhetoric had deepened the hunger strike crisis in the country. Pointing out that the government is responsible for the health and safety of prisoners from the moment of their incarceration, Kılıçdaroğlu added that any death due to the protest would have serious repercussions for the government.
CHP Deputy Chairman Nihat Matkap, who met with representatives of some NGOs on Monday, said that his party is ready to support any government initiative to end the hunger strike. Stating that the government has failed to take effective action, Matkap added that necessary steps should be taken to persuade the inmates to cease their protest, although the government, he noted, has no intention of acceding to their demands.
NGOs urge government to take necessary steps to end hunger strike
Non-governmental organizations held a protest to draw attention to the strike in Taksim Square in İstanbul on Sunday. Members of the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK), the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers' Unions (DİSK), the Turkish Doctors Union (TTB) and the Turkish Union of Engineers and Architects' Chambers (TMMOB) shouted the slogan “We want a resolution, not death,” and also staged a sit-in protest, calling on the government to take immediate action.
A group of people from various NGOs, KESK and DİSK, as well as representatives of political parties, staged a protest in which they urged the government to take action to stop the ongoing hunger strike in Ankara on Sunday. The group marched to Kızılay.
Education Personnel Union (Eğitim-Sen) Şırnak branch members staged a protest to express their support for the strikers. Speaking on the behalf of the protestors, Zeki İrmez said the number of people on strike had increased to 10,000 with recent additions, that the strike has reached a critical point and that the government should take immediate action to end the strikes.
Meanwhile, tensions erupted between striking BDP deputies and police officers on Sunday when a group of people who had gathered to hold an illegal demonstration in support of striking inmates met with security measures in Diyarbakır. The police deployed tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protestors. Some protestors then moved to a guest house where BDP deputies are lodged to carry out their strike. When security officers followed to apprehend the protestors, they met with opposition from the deputies. BDP deputy Özdal Üçer exchanged blows with police members during the clash.
Another incident occurred in the province of Malatya on Sunday when a group of BDP supporters attempted to stage a demonstration in support of striking BDP deputies. The demonstrators met with harsh reactions from members of the public shouting the slogan “Martyrs do not die, the homeland is indivisible.” Police escorted the group to the provincial branch office in order to prevent any violence from taking place between the groups.