Justice minister urges hunger strikers to quit

Justice minister urges hunger strikers to quit

Justice minister urges hunger strikers to quit

Supporters of the Peace and Democracy Party stage a protest in Istanbul to show solidarity with hundreds of prisoners conducting hunger strikes.

The government has finally broken its silence over the ongoing hunger strikes being held by hundreds of prisoners, with Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin appealing for an end to be put to the strikes and promising the fulfillment of one of the strikers’ three main demands.

The indefinite hunger strike by hundreds of prisoners enters its 44th day today, and Ergin visited the Sincan Prison yesterday, on the eve of the four-day long Eid al-Adha, or Feast of Sacrifice.

Speaking at a press conference following talks with prisoners, Ergin said the number of hunger strikers was around 680, but that the ongoing strikes were not related to prison conditions.

“Turkey has made significant progress on widening democratic rights and increasing the level of democratic standards,” Ergin said, pledging a continuity of reforms and recalling the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) 2023 vision document. The document was released at its party congress on Sept. 30, and heralded the right to legal defense in a defendant’s mother-tongue.

The related legal arrangement will be introduced to the Cabinet once the ongoing work is finalized, Ergin said, using a conciliatory tone

“Give up these actions on the eve of the feast for your own bodies, your own health, for your families who love you and for those who you love. We are saying there are intense efforts ongoing for a Turkey where there will be no need for these kinds of actions,” he said.

Most of those participating in the hunger strikes have been detained as part of the ongoing Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) investigation. The first 63 inmates began their strike on Sept. 12 and dozens have gradually joined since then.

The main three demands of the strikers are an end to the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan, the convicted leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) who is currently serving a life sentence on İmralı Island in the Marmara Sea, an end to restrictions on the use of Kurdish in public zones, and allowing defendants the right to defense in Kurdish during trials.

Öcalan’s lawyers have not been allowed on İmralı Island for the last 15 months. They last met with Öcalan on July 27, 2011, although his brother Mehmet Öcalan has met with him twice over the past year.

Possible steps are being taken, Ergin said when asked whether the Justice Ministry would be taking steps to make a meeting between Öcalan and his lawyers possible, as some argue that such a meeting could put an end to the hunger strikes.

In response to a question as to whether he would hold talks with deputies from the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) - a deputy and a mayor of which are also on hunger strike - in order to end the strikes, Ergin said that the government would be open to any contact that would help resolve the problem.

Dozens of inmates died in a hunger strike in 2000, in protest against the moving of inmates from dormitories to cells. Some 30 prisoners and two soldiers were also killed when security forces stormed jails in December that year, in an operation known as “Return to Life” to end the protest.

Asked whether the government was mulling a similar intervention this time, Ergin said: “I don’t even want to talk about that now. If these actions are being done to get their voices heard, that voice is being heard.”

“The nose bleed of even one person in prison is not something we would consent to. We have mobilized all of our opportunities not to allow something like that to happen,” he said.

BDP readies for massive resistance

The BDP, meanwhile, has announced a roadmap for a solution to the issue, which includes forming a “democratic civilian resistance line” and declaring Oct. 30 an “Altogether Resistance Day” in which people would “stop life in the area they are living in.”

Accordingly, in order to spread news about the hunger strikes, letters signed by the co-chairs of the BDP are set to be sent to parties and leaders in the other parts of Kurdistan, human rights organizations in Europe and the U.N., leaders of EU countries, Turkish embassies, members of the U.S. Senate and Congress, international opinion leaders, and foreign journalists.

In addition, all BDP city and district organizations will collectively lay a wreath at the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) organization buildings on Oct. 30, 2012.

Meanwhile, speaking to reporters after he visited a group of hunger strikers in Diyarbakır Prison, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chair Sezgin Tanrıkulu urged the prime minister to deal with the issue.

Concerning Öcalan’s isolation, Tanrıkulu also said: “Nobody can be left under isolation conditions for 14 months. Isolation conditions should be removed.”