The government only has a few days left to take urgent action to fulfill imprisoned hunger strikers’ demands or the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) could join the action, party co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş said yesterday, the 56th day of the strike.
“Abdullah Öcalan [the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party – PKK] should be allowed to meet his lawyers without any delay this week. We attach importance to the government’s preparations to allow defense in mother tongue in courts. Education in mother tongue is an issue of constitutional amendment, but even a declaration of intention toward this direction will ease the process,” Demirtaş said yesterday at his party’s parliamentary group meeting.
Demirtaş was referring to the demands of 703 inmates who are staging hunger strike in Turkey’s 67 prisons, demanding an end to the isolation of Öcalan, who is serving a life sentence on İmralı Island in the Marmara Sea. The 703 includes 21 inmates who joined the action yesterday. The protestors, most of whom are in detention due to alleged links with the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), the alleged urban wing of the PKK, also demand restrictions on the use of their mother tongue – Kurdish – in courts be lifted and education in one’s mother tongue. Öcalan’s lawyers have not been allowed to see him on İmralı island for the past 15 months.
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said late Nov. 5 that that defense in Kurdish would soon be possible with an amendment to Article 202 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CMK). Individuals will be able to defend themselves in a language they think they can better express themselves, Arınç said, adding that Öcalan could meet with his lawyers if he wishes so on the condition that related procedure is properly followed.
“If we observe an attitude of delusion and delay [on the part of the government] even in this serious issue, we will have some decisions [to make] as the BDP group. We will not allow [inmates] to die in prisons,” Demirtaş said. BDP lawmakers favor joining the hunger strikes, but they will make their final decision based on developments within a few days, Demirtaş added. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s previous statements on hunger strikes in which he accused inmates of “showing off” hindered an end to the strikes, Demirtaş said.
“If the Cabinet had discussed the issue 20 days ago, maybe hunger strikes would not have continued up until today. We attach importance to the statements [of Arınç], however, we have just a few days for solution. Those statements should be solidified, and we should help each other in taking rapid and practical steps,” the BDP co-chair said and that the government had been committing a crime by isolating Öcalan.
Erdoğan, meanwhile, blamed the BDP for forcing prisoners to go on a hunger strike. “The BDP and divisive terrorist organization [PKK] are pushing them to a hunger strike. Why does the BDP not say, ‘We don’t want you to stage a hunger strike?’ Do those people have to be a part of your bloody accounts and death games? Leave these people in peace,” Erdoğan said yesterday. Demirtaş, in response, said that they did not want any inmate to stage hunger strikes. “If they would end their hunger strikes at our request, we would beg them to give up 10 times a day. We don’t want any of our friends to stage a protest that would cost them their life,” Demirtaş said.
Separately, President Abdullah Gül met with Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin late in the afternoon yesterday in an unplanned meeting.
The PKK, meanwhile, said the hunger strikes would end without any death if the “reasonable demands” of the inmates were met, Fırat news agency, known for its close ties with the PKK, reported. “We believe that this action which is being continued on the basis of the reasonable demands being met, can end without causing [any] martyrdom,” the PKK statement said, adding that meeting the demands of the hunger strikers should not be perceived as a weakness by the government.