Friday 1 February 2019

Call for action to end isolation in Turkish prison of Kurdish leader

ATUC Secretary, Fiona Napier, is calling for action in support of the Kurdish men and women on indefinite hunger strike, all with the same single demand – for Turkey to end the isolation of Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan, incarcerated for the last 20 years in a Turkish prison on the island of İmralı.  

The hunger strikers in Strasbourg: Kurdish Democratic Society Congress-Europe co-chair Yüksel Koç, HDP Urfa former MP Dilek Öcalan, Kurdish politician Mustafa Sarıkaya and journalist Gülistan Çiya İke, Nurgül Başaran, Ramazan İmir, Mehmet Nimet Sevim, Mohamad Ghaderi, Denis Durgut, Ayvaz Ece, Kardo Bokani, Kerem Solhan, Agit Ural and Ekrem Yılmaz.(Photo courtesy of ANF News)
On 23rd January, Fiona, along with Sarah Glynn (Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan)  travelled to Strasbourg with messages of solidarity for the 14 Kurdish men and women currently in week six of a hunger strike calling for an end to Ocalan's isolation. 
Originally sentenced to death in 1999, Öcalan had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment when Turkey abolished the death penalty as part of its bid to be admitted to membership of the European Union. Since 1999, he has been held on İmralı, frequently in isolation and routinely denied family visits and access to his lawyer. This isolation has intensified over the past decade, and Öcalan has not been allowed to see his lawyer since 2011. These are conditions that contravene both Turkey’s own constitution, and the European Convention on Human Rights. 

The current mass hunger strike began on November 7th, 2018, when Leyla Güven (a Turkish MP imprisoned in January 2018 following her vocal criticism of the Turkish invasion of Afrin) announced the start of her hunger strike in court, during the third hearing of her case.

Since then, over 240 prisoners have joined the action across 59 Turkish jails, along with non-prisoner actions around the world, including Canada and Wales. More are joining the mass action each week. In response to the growing hunger strike – and Leyla’s deteriorating health - Turkish authorities released her from prison , but she is continuing her action. Also in response to the current hunger strike, Öcalan’s brother was allowed a brief visit earlier this month, but the Turkish authorities are still preventing his lawyer from seeing him.     

Fiona Napier from Aberdeen Trades Union Council 
and Sarah Glynn from Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan 
with Gülistan Çiya İke and Kardo Bokani.
The Kurdish hunger strikers in Strasbourg are now on Day 44 without food. They began their action on 17th December with the following statement;

“With the isolation of the Kurdish People’s Leader Abdullah Öcalan, the war policy of the Turkish dictator Erdoğan and the fascist AKP / MHP government is further aggravated. While the entire democratic and revolutionary opposition is subjected to ruthless repression, Imrali’s isolation system is being extended to the entire country and the Middle East.

"We have to break the isolation on Imrali. This is necessary to ensure the development of freedom and democracy in Turkey, to stop the massacres of the Erdoğan regime in Kurdistan, to promote freedom and equality between peoples and to solve all existing problems through dialogue. We salute Democratic Society Congress (DTK) Co-chair Leyla Güven. The hunger strikes taking place inside and outside the prisons have already created publicity, but the CPT (Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment) and other institutions are yet to break their silence on the situation of Abdullah Öcalan. 

"We have to break the isolation in order for the freedom of peoples of Kurdistan and Turkey to be achieved, and in order for war to stop. This is a process that requires a price and sacrifice. For this reason, we are going on an indefinite and non-alternate hunger strike”.

The hunger strikers specifically chose to base themselves in Strasbourg – home of the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights. They are targeting these European institutions, calling on them to hold Turkey – also a member of the Council of Europe - to account, and are urging the international community to do the same. 

The hunger strike is happening in a Kurdish Community Centre in Strasbourg, on Rue de Broque. A massive effort went into preparing the space in advance of the start of the action, with only a few days to get the centre ready. The accommodation space comprises 2 sleeping/ rest areas (one male and one female), a kitchen area (for preparing the salt/sugar/vitamin B drink they are taking to maintain brain function) and a bathroom. This space is not open to visitors and provides a private area where those refusing food can rest as often as they need to (increasingly often as time goes on) and receive medical examinations. In addition, there is a reception area for guests, which includes a press/ communications room which is used for receiving delegations, filming interviews, skyping interviews and posting updates online. This area is a hub of constant activity, with a constant stream of visitors – family, friends, solidarity delegations, politicians and press – joining the 14 hunger strikers (identified by the white tabards bearing the face of Ocalan that they all wear). 

The atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming, and everyone who enters is greeted with smiles and handshakes. The hunger strikers themselves come and go between the private and public areas depending on how they are feeling and the demands for radio, TV and face-to-face interviews, plus welcoming solidarity visits and delegations. Backgammon is popular, and local musicians also visit to keep spirits up – we were laughingly told that they were still dancing on Day 28. 
Principled, committed and determined
 The release of Leyla Güven was celebrated as a successful result of the mass hunger strike by all those taking part, but all are keen to emphasise that prisoner release was never the purpose of the action, and the 14 Strasbourg participants have all agreed they will continue - as indeed has Leyla herself - until Ocalan is released from his isolation.

It was a privilege to meet these 14 principled, committed, determined individuals, and to spend a few days in the amazingly welcoming and supportive community that has gathered between and around them. In truth it was a sometimes a surreal experience, to be casually chatting with people whose company you are enjoying, then remembering that they are, in effect, preparing to die. Not everyone may agree with – or be able to comprehend - taking such extreme action, but as the Strasbourg hunger strikers pointed out, they have tried every other avenue open to them, and it has achieved nothing for the Kurdish cause, or Öcalan. That is a statement of fact, and one that should spur all of us on to action. While there, we filmed several interviews with two of those on hunger striker - Kardo Bokanî and Dilek Öcalan (Abdullah Öcalan’s) niece, who has been a Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) MP in Turkey since 2015. You can watch these here .

In the time we spent there, the activists were visited by a constant stream of delegations from across Europe, from Swiss anarchists to French communists - all there to deliver messages of support and solidarity and promises of action. All these visits, and solidarity actions happening around the world, are being covered by ANF English news, which you can follow here. We visited to deliver a message of solidarity from Scotland, and to also promise action. We spent a considerable amount of our time there discussing with the hunger strikers how best we in Scotland can support them in their fight for justice. All they are asking from the international community is to recognise and support their action, and for all of us to push our politicians to hold Turkey to account. The mass hunger strike has already achieved some success, as seen by Leyla Guven’s release and the brief visit allowed by Ocalan’s brother. But we have to not only keep up the pressure but build it. 

We all need to act now! See below for a list of actions that you as an individual - and your trade union branches – can do to make a difference. We have heard today that one of our comrades in Strasbourg, Kerem Solhan, has suffered a deterioration in health, and has been admitted to hospital but is refusing treatment. Let’s make sure our politicians can’t ignore this struggle for justice!


They are starving themselves so that the world takes notice and compels Turkey to end the isolation of Abdullah Ocalan. We can help spread their message, we can put pressure on our elected representatives, and we can send them our personal support directly. Here are some suggested actions: (You can write to your MPs etc via this link:

1/ Check for news to read and share on  and on our Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan Facebook page,

2/ Sign the petition calling on the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture to visit Ocalan,

3/ Ask your union to send this information to all members and to consider submitting an emergency motion to the STUC conference. And ask your local Trades Council to contact affiliated unions and to organise a public meeting, and to consider sending a branch delegation to visit the hunger strikers in Strasbourg, as a show of solidarity.

4/ Ask your MEP to put pressure on the European institutions to back their words with actions and make Turkey comply with their own constitution and European human rights conventions. And also ask them to push for the EU to stop giving Turkey financial aid.

5/ Ask your MP to sign this EDM, ;to raise the issue of Ocalan’s illegal isolation publicly wherever possible; to demand that the Foreign Minister puts pressure on Turkey to comply with its obligations to end the isolation of Ocalan and to restart the peace talks; and to demand that the UK stops selling Turkey weapons.

6/ Also write directly to Jeremy Hunt, the UK Foreign Secretary, to demand that he puts pressure on Turkey to comply with its obligations to end the isolation of Ocalan and to restart the peace talks; and that the UK stops selling Turkey weapons. You can email him on

7/ Ask your MSP to sign this Motion ; to show public support for the hunger strikers’ call, and to ensure that no more Scottish Government money is given to firms that sell weapons to Turkey.

8/ Organise a public demonstration to raise awareness of the hunger strike. Share details of any events with us so we can publicise, and also share pictures so we can pass on to the Kurdish media.
9/ Send a personal postcard directly to the hunger strikers via the Kurdish Community Centre, 7 Rue de Broque, Strasbourg 67200, France

10/ And if you are able to go to Strasbourg, or Newport, yourself, you can be sure that your visit will be hugely appreciated. Please contact us if you are planning a visit.

Here is some background information you can use in your letters:
The isolation of imprisoned Kurdish leader, Abdullah Ocalan is contrary to Turkey’s own constitution and to international human rights law. Ocalan’s ideas have inspired a major movement for grassroots, multi-ethnic secular democracy, and the respect in which he is held makes him key to a peaceful settlement for the Kurds in Turkey – an ideal for which he has strived repeatedly over the last two decades.

Ocalan is in his 20th year of imprisonment by Turkey and is being denied access to his family and to his lawyers. Ocalan’s importance, together with the lack of international action, has forced the Kurds to take the desperate step of mass indefinite hunger strikes. MP Leyla Guven has been on hunger strike since 8 November. She has been joined by over 250 other political prisoners in Turkish jails and also by Kurdish activists around the world, including 14 at the seat of the European parliament in Strasbourg, and Imam Sis in the Kurdish Community Centre in Newport, Wales, who began their own hunger strike on 17 December.

The Council of Europe, of which Turkey is a member, regards Isolation as a torture and a crime against humanity, but they need to act on their words. The European Court of Human Rights must take action against Turkey on many counts, and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture must fulfil its role and visit Ocalan in prison. At the same time, the EU and UK must end their friendly engagement with Turkey, and European countries, including the UK, must stop selling Turkey weapons that will be used to suppress dissidents and minorities at home and attack Kurdish areas across the border.

In response to the pressure of the hunger strike, the Turkish Government has allowed Ocalan’s brother a brief, ten-minute, visit – the first in 2 ½ years – and they have allowed Leyla Guven home on the 78th day of her strike. But the strikers are united in their determination that these token gestures are not enough and that they won’t be distracted from their fundamental and simple demand.
As Leyla Guven says, ‘The isolation of Ocalan is a barrier on the way to peace.’