Thousands join 68-day Kurdish hunger strike

IssueDecember 2012 - January 2013
News by David Polden

On 18 November, hundreds of Kurdish prisoners in Turkey ended a 68-day hunger strike at the request of Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The hunger strike had spread from the prisoners to wider society, threatening a mass upheaval.

The fast began on 12 September as 670 Kurdish prisoners demanded changes in the law to allow education and court hearings in the Kurdish language, and for the start of peace talks between the PKK and the government, with Ocalan taking part.

By the end of the protest, Turkey’s justice ministry reported the number of hunger strikers  inside and outside prison had risen to 1,700. The parliamentary Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party claimed 10,000 were taking part – including seven MPs.

The hunger strike sparked protests across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish south-east, with shops and transport services closing and clashes between police and demonstrators reportedly raising fears of more widespread protests should any of the hunger strikers die.

Ocalan has been held in solitary confinement on the island of Imrali since 1999 after being sentenced to death (later commuted to life imprisonment) for leading the PKK.

Turkish media reported that a deal had been agreed for the reopening of talks between the Turkish government and the PKK.