Rebel Cities: Kurdish Hunger Strikes Report
As part of our Activist Hub, Ross Morris reports on how hundreds joined Kurdish Hunger-Strikers to protest against the Turkish State in Central London
Hundreds of activists from The Free Öcalan Campaign rallied outside 10 Downing Street last weekend to demand an end to the inhuman treatment of Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan, who is being held in solitary confinement by the Turkish government.
Protestors arrived at 2 PM on Saturday with banners and placards featuring Abdullah Öcalan’s image and chanted phrases, such as “Yesterday Mandela, To-day Öcalan,” and “Wake up London, wake up UK, wake up Theresa May” in reference to the UK government’s silence on human rights abuses in Turkey.
The demonstrators then marched on Trafalgar Square where they blocked off traffic on the main roundabout, causing many causal on-lookers to stop, take photos and chant along with the protestors.
In between the traffic lanes, Kurdish Women’s movement organiser, Elif Sarican spoke to the demonstration and hundreds of gathered passers-by:
“If we want to see an end to fighting in North-West Syria, then we need to recognise that Öcalan is key to making this happen, and an end to his isolation is the key to securing its future through genuine negotiations for peace.”
The imprisoned Kurdish leader, who has been compared to Nelson Mandela, is considered vital to potential peace talks between the Turkish government and the Kurdish fighters in Syria, who have recently defeated ISIS.
This demonstration comes after 4 months of Kurdish hunger strikes with as many as 3000 Kurds on hunger strike around the world.
Kurds in the UK are on hunger strike in the hope that it will encourage a robust response on behalf of UK politicians. The key demand of the campaign is for the Foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to ask the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) to obtain guarantees about Öcalan’s safety and ensure that he is being afforded his human rights.
“Abdullah Öcalan is a leader and philosopher struggling for the people of Kurdistan, the people of the Middle East and all of humanity,” said Ali Poyraz, a father of two who has been on hunger strike for 32 days. “We are on hunger strike for an end to his isolation”
Protestors say that Öcalan is being denied rights “guaranteed under both international law and the Turkish constitution,” such as family visits and access to legal advice.
Jack Eyre, a London-based political activist and one of organisers for the demonstration, believes that international institutions are not acting appropriately with regards to human rights abuses in Turkey.
“Turkey is part of the European Council and therefore falls under the jurisdiction of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. The CPT must do its job and force the Turkish state to abide by its own laws and responsibilities defined in international treaties to which it is signatory,” he said.
The Free Öcalan Campaign is backed by The Trades Union Congress after a motion demanding freedom for the leader was passed with unanimous support at an annual meeting in Brighton in 2017, at which over 50 British trade unions were represented.
It has also garnered impassioned support from representatives in Parliament. Labour MP Lloyd Russell Moyle has spoken on their behalf in parliamentary debates and in Foreign Office Questions.
Asked why he is supporting Kurdish hunger strikes, Russell Moyle said, “political voice has been removed from Kurdish communities in Turkey and this is the last resort to raise awareness of the appalling treatment of not only the Kurds, but the leader of the Kurds in Turkey and I stand with them all the way.”
To support further solidarity with Öcalan, the Free Öcalan Campaign has begun an ongoing social media campaign on Wednesday (10 April) with a takeover of former Everton Goalie, Neville Southall’s Twitter (@NevilleSouthall). Members of FOC will also be staging 5-day hunger strikes, during which they will welcome journalists to the Kurdish Community Centre in North London to meet the hunger-strikers. Follow @KurdishStrike on Twitter and @KurdishHungerStrikes on Facebook.