‘Hunger strikes are a sign of deepening crisis in Turkey’ – Open Letter

By Peace in Kurdistan Campaign:

OPEN LETTER TO MR THORBJØRN JAGLAND, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

Dear Mr Jagland

As you must be aware hundreds of Kurds in Europe and Turkey have been taking part in a hunger strike to demand justice for their people.

The hunger strike started as a protest by Kurdish political prisoners on 20 January 2012, to mark the 13th anniversary of the handing over of Abdullah Ocalan to Turkey in what the Kurdish people maintain was an international conspiracy.  This action has since escalated into an indefinite hunger strike with Kurds across Europe joining Kurdish politicians and activists in Turkey.

Fifteen Kurds in Strasbourg began their indefinite hunger strike on 1st March and so far three have been hospitalised.

The Kurds want to see the resumption of talks towards a negotiated resolution of the conflict with Turkey, and are demanding the immediate relaxing of inhumane prison conditions imposed on Abdullah Ocalan, who has been kept in total isolation and denied the right to see his lawyers since July 2011.

Their deeply felt wishes are to see the release of all political prisoners and a fair and democratic resolution of the Kurdish question. We are of the opinion that these wishes must be respected and that the demands of the Kurds at least need to be heard. The escalating violence, conflict and increased repression inside Turkey today is a cause for great concern as it takes the country in totally the wrong direction.

We are writing to urge you to exercise your powers and take action as people who strongly believe in the necessity of finding a democratic political solution to the Kurdish question. Meaningful talks represent the only hope of finding a genuine and sustainable peace. The deepening crisis inside Turkey of which the hunger strikes are a manifestation needs to be reversed or the consequences for the country could be extremely damaging.  The ill-treatment of Ocalan reflects the injustice that the Kurds as a people see is being inflicted on them by the Turkish state while international institutions fails to respond.

These hunger strikes are a desperate plea from the Kurdish people to the Turkish government to persuade it to stop the clampdown on their political organisations and rights. In the last three years, over 8,000 people – including elected MPs, mayors and councillors, journalists, students, human rights activists, and academics – have been jailed in what Prime Minister Erdogan insists are counter-terrorism operations.

But as Selma Irmak, imprisoned BDP MP for Sirnak who was among the first to begin the hunger strike, has said, ‘Since I have been robbed of all instruments and means of expression, I am obliged to use my body as a means of communication’.

We wish to express our deep concern at the treatment being meted out to Abdullah Ocalan on the prison island of Imrali, where he has been held since 1999. By prohibiting contact with his lawyers – 36 of whom were themselves arrested under Turkey’s ever-widening anti-terror legislation in December 2011 – the Turkish government is putting itself in breach of international obligations on the treatment of prisoners.

As the only international body with any authority to visit Imrali, we request that the Council for the Prevention of Torture arrange an urgent visit in order to establish that Mr Ocalan is not being subjected to inhumane or degrading treatment.

We believe that such a visit will allay the fears of the Kurdish people and will help bring about an end to the hunger strikes and the desperate measures that they feel forced to take.

This matter is particularly urgent given the important contribution that Mr Ocalan has demonstrated that he is capable of making to any resolution of the conflict were he to be accepted by Turkey as a partner, or at least a key participant, in future negotiations.

As this is a desperately urgent issue we kindly request your prompt and positive response.

Yours sincerely

Lord Rea

Jeremy Corbyn MP

Hywel Williams MP

Katy Clark MP

Bruce Kent, Vice-President CND and Pax Christi

Gareth Peirce, human rights lawyer

Professor Bill Bowring, Barrister, Director of the LLM/MA in Human Rights School of Law, Birkbeck, University of London

Louise Christian, human rights lawyer

Jean Lambert MEP

Jill Evans MEP

Dr. Dafydd Iwan, Plaid Cymru past President

Stan Newens, former MP and MEP, President of Liberation

Margaret Owen OBE, international human rights lawyer

Dr Vicki Sentas, Kings College London

Dr Felix Padel, Social Anthropologist and author

Michael Ellman, lawyer

Nick Hildyard, Policy Analyst

David Morgan, journalist

Maggie Bowden, General Secretary, Liberation

Roger Tompkins, lawyer and humanist (New Zealander)

Joe Ryan, Chair of the Westminster Justice and Peace Commission

Khatchatur I. Pilikian, Professor of Music & Art

Les Levidow, Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC)

George Binette, Camden UNISON Branch Secretary (personal capacity)

Alain Hertzmann ,Trade unionist,  Unite the union (personal capacity)

Stephen Smellie, Branch Secretary, UNISON South Lanarkshire Branch

Deputy Convenor, UNISON Scotland

Manivannan Pathmanabhan MP, Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE)

Osagyefo Otongogara-Tewodros, Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Defence Campaign UK

Saleh Mamon, Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC)

Manaz Baloch, International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, UK

Estella Schmid, Peace in  Kurdistan Campaign

18 April 2012

Contact and further information:

Peace in Kurdistan  Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish Question

Email: estella24@tiscali.co.uk Tel 020 7586 5892 Www.peaceinkurdistancampaign.wordpress.com

Patrons: Lord Avebury, Lord Rea, Lord Dholakia, Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP, Jean Lambert MEP, Alyn Smith MEP, Bairbre de Brún MEP, Jeremy Corbyn MP,  Hywel Williams MP, Elfyn Llwyd MP, John Austin, Bruce Kent, Gareth Peirce, Julie Christie, Noam Chomsky, John Berger, Edward Albee, Margaret Owen OBE, Mark Thomas

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