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27 September 2001 Edition

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Maskey arrested in Turkey

Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey who was arrested along with a delegation of republican ex-prisoners by the Turkish military and police last week as they arrived in Istanbul, was in the country on a fact finding mission.

Speaking to An Phoblacht after he returned from Turkey, Maskey described the actions of the Turkish authorities as draconian.

Maskey went to Turkey to find out more about the ongoing hunger strike in the country. He said that once his party arrived at the airport, however, they were virtually surrounded by security men.

Maskey recalled a recentl meeting with the Turkish Ambassador to Ireland, who had invited him to visit Turkey ``and see for himself'' what was really going on. During that meeting, the ambassador dismissed claims of attacks by the state on hunger strikers and their supporters.

``We brought our visas, checked our passports through and met the people we were supposed to meet,'' said Maskey. ``We went directly to our destination on public transport. We were told that the area had been blockaded by the Turkish military and a number of organisations had been trying to get in. Every human rights organisation in Turkey is aware of the situation in the death fast area.''

When they arrived at their destination, the Sinn Féin man said that the delegation was taken off the bus by the military then driven in a darkened minivan to a fortified barracks in Istanbul where their passports were taken from them. There they were held for an hour and a half.

``We spent the whole time in the van. They said nothing to us apart from one question as to why we didn't sort out our own problem rather than come into their country,'' Maskey said.

The delegation's interpreter was separated from the rest of the group. Maskey said the concern of the delegation was for the safety of the interpreter, a Turkish man who lives in London. He was, however, released later that evening.

Maskey explained that as he was sitting at the back of the van he was able to use his mobile phone, without being seen, to contact the Irish Embassy.

Then, without warning, they were told to get out of the van and they were released from the barracks.

``We had heard in Belfast the military had tightened the ring of steel around the death fast site, so there was always the expectation of an assault,'' said Maskey. Tensions had heightened in Turkey after the attacks on America.

``It added to the unstable political climate in Turkey. But our plans to visit the area had been well heralded. The Turkish ambassador challenged Sinn Féin to visit Turkey and find out what was going on for ourselves, so this is what we did.''

When the delegation reached the site they had to climb hills to avoid the military.

Maskey met with the leader of the death fast, Racid Sarai, who has been on the fast for 284 days. The fasters are refusing food but have been taking selected vitamins to lengthen their survival time. Racid Sarai is expected to die within the next three weeks.

Meanwhile, the son of Derry INLA hunger striker Mickey Devine has visited the death fast houses in Turkey. Michael Devine evaded detention by the Turkish authorities after entering the country, to visit the fasters.

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An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1
Ireland
 

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