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26 April 2001 Edition

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SAVE HUNGER STRIKERS IN TURKISH JAILS

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has called on the Dublin government to use its influence on the UN Security Council and in the EU to put pressure on the Turkish government to end the hunger strikes in that country's prisons. Nineteen people have died thus far in the prison protests.

250 political prisoners, belonging mainly to leftist groups, began refusing food at the end of last year to protest their transfer from large, dormitory-type wards to new so-called F-type prisons, with cells housing one to three people. They say the new cells leave prisoners isolated and more vulnerable to human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch and the Council of Europe have also expressed concerns over the new regime.

Gerry Adams said that, on the 20th anniversary of the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike, he is ``very conscious of the pain and suffering endured by hunger strikers and their families and I would urge the Turkish government to act in a humane manner and bring the situation to a just end''.

It is now imperative that action is taken to ensure that no more lives are lost in the hunger strike, Adams said. ``I am calling on the Irish government, through its membership of the UN Security Council and as a member state of the European Union to raise this matter both with the Turkish government and internationally to achieve a positive resolution.

Adams also called for a public inquiry into events surrounding the transfers to the new prisons last December, in which 30 prisoners were killed and countless others injured. This incident and reports of persistent torture and other abuses in Turkish jails need to be investigated, he said.

 

19 now dead in Turkey hunger strike



    
Our prisoners are isolated and tortured. It may be hard for you to understand but that is why we have to die.
As the death toll from the hunger strike by political prisoners in Turkey keeps rising, public opinion and international institutions in Turkey and Western Europe keep ignoring their plight.

As we go to print, the death toll from the months-long protest by leftist prison inmates and their relatives has reached 19. They are protesting against the transfer of prisoners to high security prisons where a new cell system operates. On Sunday 22 April, as the 16th and 17th hunger strikers died, police in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir detained five people during a protest against the new prisons, private television station NTV reported.

A young Turkish woman prisoner, Sibel Surucu, 24, a member of a banned Communist group, died on Sunday in an Istanbul hospital after some 130 days on hunger strike, Turkey's Human Rights Association said. She weighed 64 pounds after months on the fast, during which she consumed little except sugared water and vitamins.

The same day Senay Hanoglu, the wife of prisoner Yucel Hanoglu, died at her home in Istanbul after a 160-day hunger strike, Ozgur Tayyad, a prisoners' support group, said in a statement. Surucu and Hanoglu were two of some 800 protesting prisoners and relatives.

The hunger strikers have taken sugared or salted water and vitamins to prolong their fast. Human rights groups say dozens of others taking part in the hunger strikes are now very close to death.

Some 250 inmates belonging to outlawed leftist groups began refusing food at the end of last year to protest their transfer from large, dormitory-type wards to new so-called F-type prisons, with cells housing one to three people. They say the new cells leave them isolated and vulnerable.

In the old prisons, prisoners lived a communal life in large dormitory-style wards. Each political group controlled its own ward. While the government says the old wards had become indoctrination centres for leftist, Kurdish and Islamic groups, the prisoners, their relatives and international and local human rights agencies fear they will be at greater risk of abuse from prison officials under the new cell regime.

International human rights groups have urged Turkey to end its policy of isolating prisoners, which they say harms mental and physical health. In a memorandum released on 5 April 2001, Human Rights Watch called on the Turkish government to end the isolation regime in the new high security prisons. The memorandum also documented the ongoing isolation and ill treatment of prisoners in the new prisons.

Human Rights Watch expressed concern that at the four F-type prisons that are currently in operation, at Edirne, Kandira, Sincan, and Tekirdag, prisoners may leave their cells only once a week if a member of their immediate family visits. Otherwise, they are held permanently either in single-person or three-person cells in what has been termed ``small group isolation.'' These new cell-based facilities are in stark contrast to the large ward-based system that is typical in older Turkish prisons.

``The isolation regime in F-type prisons is physically and psychologically damaging to prisoners and should never have been instituted in the first place,'' said Holly Cartner, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. ``The government should not wait for more prisoners to die before it brings the prison into compliance with international norms.''

Human Rights Watch wants Turkish officials to investigate reports of torture and other abuses by police that took place after 19 December 2000, when 30 prisoners and two gendarmes were killed as 10,000 armed soldiers entered 20 Turkish prisons to break up a non-violent protest by prisoners and transfer them to the newly constructed F-type prisons.

Prisoners reported excessive force, deliberate killings, and torture by police during the operation and have presented medical evidence including head wounds, broken limbs, and ribs, to support their claims.

``There is a long history of police using excessive force in Turkish prisons, and many prisoners have died as a result,'' said Cartner. ``It is high time the government conducted a serious investigation into these allegations of abuse.''

Human Rights Watch emphasised that the F-type regime contravenes international prison standards and has been criticised by intergovernmental bodies such as the Council of Europe.

Paradoxically, the persistence of isolation contradicts the Turkish government's own stated policy. Prior to the December operation, the Turkish Justice Minister stated that the new F-type prisons would not be opened until legislation was in place to ensure a humane regime. The minister now refuses to implement those reforms unless prisoners abandon their hunger strikes.

Human Rights Watch first addressed the Turkish government in a July 1999 memorandum warning that the planned regime of small group isolation might amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and would expose prisoners to an increased risk of ill-treatment or torture.

Despite the deaths of 19 hunger strikers, Turks and most in the West are largely ignoring the plight of political prisoners in Turkey.

Turks are focused on a crippling domestic economic crisis and have little sympathy for political prisoners. Those with more understanding about the situation within the prison walls know very well the treatment they may receive from the country's government.

Human Rights Watch has documented how the Turkish authorities have methodically silenced critics of its prison policies. Journalists and human rights defenders who have criticised the handling of the F-type prison transfers and reported on the progress of the hunger strikes have been ill-treated, detained, imprisoned, and prosecuted.

Newspapers and magazines that have reported on the prison crisis have been confiscated and broadcasts suspended.

Branches of the Turkish Human Rights Association have been closed down, and officials have been charged with ``supporting illegal armed groups.''

Prisoners' relatives have also been persecuted and subjected to routine humiliation during prison visits.

Although the government has put forward small changes to the isolation regime, it has announced that there is not way back on the new cell regime. ``The state will not bow its head under pressure from those who force their own friends to die,'' a defiant Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said Thursday 19 April.

The strikers, however, are convinced that their plight - and if necessary their death - will make a difference. In 1996, 12 inmates starved themselves to death before the government abandoned plans to transfer prisoners to remote jails, where they faced solitary confinement.

On Thursday 19 April, Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Turk said the government was drafting laws that would allow prisoners in small cells - one to three people - to participate in communal activities and would permit civilian inspections of prisons.

President Ahmet Necdet Sezer urged parliament Friday 20 April to quickly pass the proposed laws and called on the hunger strikers to end their fast. Presidential spokesman Metin Yalman added that Sezer was waiting for ``the inmates to end their actions and give a chance for the changes to be implemented''.

``It is not progress, but a more sophisticated and refined regime of isolation,'' Yucel Sayman, the head of the Istanbul Bar Association, told the French news agency AFP. The prisoners rejected the offer and are still demanding an immediate return to the ward system and direct negotiations with the government, Ozgur Tayad, a prisoners' solidarity group, said in a statement.

 

Adams urges Dublin to use Security Council influence



Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has called on the Dublin government to use its influence as a member of the UN Security Council and as a member state of the EU to put pressure on the Turkish government to enter negotiations to end the hunger strikes in Turkish prisons. The prison protest has already resulted in the deaths of 19 people - prisoners and their relatives.

Adams said: ``Recent reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch confirm that the regime of solitary isolation being introduced in the new F-type prisons, is in direct breach of commitments made by the Turkish Justice Ministry. Their investigations suggest that in additional to this isolation that prisoners transferred under this new regime have already been subject to torture and ill-treatment.

``It is imperative that action is taken now to ensure that no more lives are lost in this hunger strike.

``I am calling on the Irish government, through its membership of the UN Security Council and as a member state of the European Union to raise this matter both with the Turkish government and internationally to achieve a positive resolution.

``In this the 20th Anniversary of the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike I am very conscious of the pain and suffering endured by hunger strikers and their families and I would urge the Turkish government to act in a humane manner and bring the situation to a just end.

``We are also supporting calls for a public inquiry into events surrounding the December transfers and into reports of persistent torture and other abuses in Turkish jails.''

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