The death fasts of the political prisoners in Turkey have reached their 208th day and the number of deaths during the last few weeks has reached 22. The total number of losses resulting from these actions has already passed 50, if we take into account the 30 prisoners who were killed during the massacre that took place during the so-called "Back to Life" operation. Furthermore, many prisoners who are fasting to death have now incurred incurable physical and mental damage.
According to the official figures of the Ministry of Justice there are 721 hunger strikers at present, 203 of whom are fasting to death. This action is being kept up in the prisons and the hospitals all over Turkey, including the new F-Type prisons. There are also the relatives of the prisoners outside the prisons who are on a death fast in solidarity with them.
As you will remember, following the bloody operation on 19th December, a large number of political prisoners (except for those linked to the PKK) from about 20 prisons had been forcibly transferred to the three new F-Type prisons, (where construction work had not yet been fully completed).
The government had calculated that by doing this they would put an end to the action, but they were wrong. The prisoners continued with their hunger strikes. However, the Turkish bourgeois media took the question completely off the agenda as if it didn't exist, and they maintained this attitude right up to the recent period. However the deaths that have been taking place in the last few weeks and the attention that this has attracted from the foreign media has forced them to pay more attention to the question.
In the intervening period the prisoners were subjected to incredible pressures and torture, especially in the F-Type prisons. Many prisoners were subjected to forced treatment against their will and "brought back to life" when they lost consciousness and were near to dying. Such cases were very common, but all of this hardly found any coverage in the Turkish bourgeois media. This weakened public pressure on the government.
We also have to remember that the serious economic and political crisis that broke out in February, and the convulsions resulting from this, also played a role in brushing aside the question.
Despite the awful number of deaths, the Turkish state, which is one of the most repressive and brutal states in the world, has hardly lifted its finger. The Ministry of Justice is indifferent to the plight of the prisoners and persistently refuses to negotiate with them. Moreover it is attempting to conduct a hate campaign, full of deceit, falsifications and slander in collaboration with the bourgeois media.
In the meantime the Minister of Justice has confessed that this matter has gone far beyond him and is now "a matter of state." Despite all the attempts to get the negotiations started, on the part of the prisoners, civil organisations and certain delegations from Europe, the Ministry has adopted the tactic of ignoring all this and calls on the prisoners simply to give up.
It has put up a pretence of taking some measures and has presented a few cosmetic amendments to Article 16 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, which is the legal ground for the present regime of solitary confinement in the prisons. The bourgeois media then presented these amendments as if the demands of the prisoners had been met and the regime of solitary confinement had ceased.
However, the truly disgusting nature of these amendments soon became apparent: they allow for the utilisation of 'common facilities' only if the prisoners surrender. Moreover, the activities in these 'common facilities' are defined as joint activities strictly determined and limited by the prison administration. That means the prisoners are not allowed to spend their free time as they wish, but according to the wishes of the authorities.
Nobody was duped and the media balloon soon collapsed. This did not stop the media from taking every chance to create the illusion that the action was about to cease. Any news about a small number of strikers who had given up the strike or accepted treatment was portrayed in this way. The truth is that the political prisoners do not seem to be prepared to give up or retreat unless the government takes a serious step.
At the same time the government is watching with pleasure as the political prisoners die one by one. This will continue unless serious pressure is brought to bear on it.
What lies behind such an indifferent attitude of the government is the fact that there is no strong public pressure. Although many democratic mass organisations such as the solidarity associations of the relatives of the prisoners, Turkish Human Rights Association, Turkish Association of the Chambers of Engineers and Architects, Istanbul Bar Association, and the Association of Physicians, etc., (and because of this were subjected to pressure), it proved difficult to attract serious public attention during the period after the "Back to Life" massacre. This was aided by the malicious efforts of the media.
The government has behaved with extreme indifference. It has even ignored the warnings of the TUSIAD (the biggest and most influential bosses' organisation) and the President, who have stated that some measures should be taken to bring an end to the action. Of course, the TUSIAD and the President did this not out of humane considerations, but only because the EU had begun to get involved in the matter a little more than it had in the past.
Unfortunately there is not an organised and strong enough reaction to cause serious problems for the ruling class. However a certain stir has begun on the part of both the working class and the petty bourgeoisie in the last period due to the harmful effects of the recent economic crisis.
Some trade unionists have mentioned the death fasts in their speeches and on the May Day rally of 80,000 people in Istanbul slogans in solidarity with the demands of the political prisoners ("Smash the cells, both inside and outside!") could be heard. This is a positive development. However, the unions are far from organising a serious reaction. The working class is unfortunately very disorganised from both a trade union and a political point of view.
On the other hand the PKK recently declared that they would support the action. During the 208 days of action the PKK has supported the action at times by joining it and on other occasions it has abstained. But if the PKK prisoners were really to join the hunger strikers and the PKK were to put its weight behind the struggle, raising the profile of this issue, then certainly this would have a greater impact both on the Kurdish population and on the international community, especially in Europe.
Given the present balance of power, only one factor in the situation seems to be taken into account seriously by the Turkish state and that is the EU. However, the EU has a hypocritical stance. It has declared its support for the Turkish government on the question of F-Type prisons and is still maintaining that support. Although it makes official statements, the EU does not exert serious pressure on the government of Turkey and its feeble attempts to raise the issue does not find much coverage in the media.
The president of the European Court of Human Rights together with a EU delegation recently visited Turkey and met with the Minister of Justice. He demanded that the negotiations with the prisoners should begin, but this did not get much coverage in the media. And this is taking place in a favourable moment for such pressures to have an effect, because now the Turkish government is in desperate need of credits from abroad due to the economic crisis.
In these circumstances if the international labour movement and its organisations, together with other organisations from around the world, were to raise their protests against the repressive Turkish state this would bring stronger international pressure to bear on the Turkish government.
The first and most urgent demand is to bring an end to the regime of solitary confinement in the prisons and to immediately open negotiations with the representatives of the prisoners. The solitary confinement cells must be smashed, collective living quarters for the prisoners must be guaranteed, independent control committees must be formed by the representatives of the associations of the relatives of the prisoners together with the Union of Juridical Workers and the other related associations. All those who were involved in the massacre of December 19th must be punished and the Anti-Terrorism Act (in particular Article 16) must be abolished.
* Smash the cells, both inside and outside!
* Freedom for all political prisoners!
* Down with the military-police state of Turkey and its imperialist supporters!