Turkish prison struggle – death toll rises

FRFI 161 June / July 2001

Between 21 March and 7 May, 18 prisoners and four of their supporters died on Death Fast in protest against the Turkish government’s drive to change its prison system from a dormitory-based one to a cellular system. As FRFI goes to press more deaths are expected. On 19 December 2000, 30 prisoners died when state forces bombed, gassed and attacked the dormitory prisons, where left-wing prisoners had been protesting and hunger-striking against the planned move to the ‘F-type’ prisons since October. SINAN BOSTANCI and NICKI JAMESON report.

In 1991 Turkey passed an Anti-Terror Act, which states that political prisoners should be held permanently in either single or three-person cells and denied all contact with other prisoners. However, due mainly to the fierce resistance to any attempted implementation, this was never actually brought into force until last year, when the Turkish state embarked on a massive prison-building and conversion programme. The aim of this programme is to destroy the solidarity and operational capacity of political prisoners.

On 1 May 2001 Turkey amended the Anti-Terror Act to allow prisoners out of their cells during the day for education and exercise. This was clearly done to appease international bodies and governments that consider the change to cellular prisons progressive and ‘European’ but are nervous about a policy of total isolation. However, the New York-based Human Rights Watch reported on 11 May that since the passing of the amendment, no prisoners in F-type gaols had been allowed any association and the total lock-down was continuing.

The Turkish state is determined to criminalise and isolate all support for the Death Fast prisoners. On 29 March, 43 children aged 9 and 10, who were staging a symbolic demonstration outside Kartal women’s prison in Istanbul, were arrested and detained. A day earlier police buried Cengiz Soydas, the first prisoner to die on the Death Fast, having detained the families and lawyers who had planned to take part in his funeral.

The British Labour government supports the Turkish state’s programme of oppression, as shown by its recent banning of the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Front (DHKC) under the Terrorism Act. The majority of prisoners who have so far died on the Death Fast belong to the DHKC and the proscription of the organisation in Britain blatantly attacks the rights of Turkish people here to organise in solidarity with the protesters.

The British government is, of course, at home with isolating and repressing political prisoners, and Irish POWs have struggled continuously for political status and to defend their human rights. On 9 May Tony O’Hara, former political prisoner and the brother of Patsy O’Hara, who died in the 1981 H-block hungerstrike, delivered a letter of protest to the Turkish Embassy in London. He said:

‘This month marks the 20th anniversary of the H-block hungerstrike, in which ten Irishmen died in an attempt to end the criminalisation imposed on them by the British government. Ironically, there are still 41 Irish prisoners undergoing the same criminalisation attempts, two decades after the ten died. I have come to this embassy today in solidarity with Turkish people undergoing imprisonment, torture and murder in prison. As Turkey prepares to enter the EC, I wish to highlight the numerous atrocities inflicted on the people of that country by the same government that wishes to join this confederation.

‘We ask you, the government of Turkey, to move to end the deaths on hungerstrike of the men and women you are detaining in your country – a hungerstrike that has already led to 20 deaths. The blood of these men and women...is on your hands.

‘We ask this from a humanitarian basis, as it is a terrible thing that
people must go to such lengths to die on hungerstrike, and this amid the torture, deprivations and deaths already inflicted on them as defenceless hostages under incarceration... We ask you to act now before any more lives are lost due to your intransigence and barbarity. The world is watching.’


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