With relatively little attention from the international press, a quiet crisis is developing in Turkey, where hundreds of prisoners are engaged in mass hunger strikes. The strikes originated in mid-September, with initial demands centering on Kurdish language education and the on-going refusal of Turkish authorities to allow PKK leader, Abdullah Öcalan, to meet with his lawyers. Additional hunger strikes have sprung up in scores of prisons throughout the country, with demands diversifying as the strikes have spread and at least seven hundred men and women now participating. Because the hunger strikers are allowing themselves water fortified with salt, sugar and vitamins to prolong the strike, these protests are likely to be long, slow, and painful. The first strikers have already gone without food for nearly two months and doctors have indicated that some hunger strikers are nearing death. Outside the prisons, violent clashes between protestors and law enforcement officials continue.
In a recent blog, my colleague, Bill Jones, noted the ways in which the Turkish government has targeted Kurdish lawyers as part of its general crackdown on political dissent in Turkey. These arrests, he points out, are in violation of UN agreements and represent a violation of basic human rights. But conditions seem likely to get worse before they get better.
A draft law is currently working its way through the Turkish Parliament that will further curb the capacity of lawyers to meet with their clients. The law was developed primarily to limit communications between imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah Öcalan, and his lawyers, forty-seven of whom were arrested this past November. Apparently, claiming that the ferry to İmralı Island, where Öcalan is incarcerated, is “out of order” is no longer considered sufficient.
The draft law, which has largely passed unnoticed by domestic and international observers, promises to be yet another tool by which Turkey will be able to limit the rights of prisoners. It would effectively give the government the right to ban prisoners’ access to lawyers for up to six months. Needless to say, all of this is likely to further violate international agreements regarding the treatment of prisoners.
Turkey’s jailing of writers has received increasing attention in both the Turkish and the international press, enough to force Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to defend the fact that Turkey has more journalists in prison, describing them as “so-called journalists” who “ are actually “police murderers, sexual molesters and supporters of a coup”.
In 2011 Turkey imprisoned 104 journalists, causing Reporters Without Borders to drop Turkey’s press freedom ranking to 148th in the world. Either the country has one of the most vicious and corrupt press corps in modern history or these arrests are politically motivated. However, the Prime Minister will have none of this. When American Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone stated that he was unable to understand the massive arrests, he was dismissed by Erdogan as a “rookie ambassador” who just didn’t understand Turkey.