Imrali Prison, Turkey

Photo released by Ministry of Justice, Turkey

Hundreds of Kurdish political prisoners in Turkey are on hunger strike. Some have reached their 58th day of hunger strike and are close to death. One of their demands is for an end to the isolation of Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan. This is part of a larger demand for Turkey to create the conditions for a dialogue, with the full participation of Öcalan, to resolve the country’s Kurdish question. The prisoners are also demanding the right to education and legal defence in the Kurdish language.

The Turkish government said two days ago that it will soon submit to parliament a reform allowing defendants to use languages other than Turkish in court. But this has so far had no effect on cases going through the courts.

For example, 46 Kurdish lawyers and 3 members of their staff appeared in court in Silivri on 6 November charged in connection with their alleged involvement in the political grouping called the KCK (Koma Civakên Kurdistan – Union of Communities in Kurdistan). The court refused to allow the use of the Kurdish language, provoking a walk-out by the defendants’ lawyers. The Judge continued the trial without the presence of the defence lawyers, which is against Turkish law.

International observers, including representatives of the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association, the European Association of Lawyers
for Democracy & World Human Rights and the Human Rights Committee of the Law Society of England and Wales, said that the hearing was “not consistent with the principles which govern the right to a fair trial.”

Abdullah Ocalan has been imprisoned in total isolation on Imrali Island since August 2011. Prior to that he was held in group segregation with five other prisoners, following a decade of total isolation from 1999 to 2009.

Scotland Against Criminalising Communities wrote to the Turkish Government in December 2011 requesting a response to the Stop Isolation statement. No response has been received.

“So this is where we are. Two thousand people prepared to die in agony through hunger strikes for their mother tongue; for the release of their leader so that he can be party to negotiations for a lasting peace. If Prime Minister Erdogan does not respond – and time is running out – Turkey could find itself in a renewed conflict capable of engulfing the whole region.”
Margaret Owen, observer at the trial of the Kurdish lawyers

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