Helin Bölek of Turkish band Grup Yorum dies after hunger strike

Musician Helin Bölek of the left-wing Turkish band Grup Yorum has died after a prolonged hunger strike, news site Bianet said on Friday.

"On a death fast for 288 days, Grup Yorum member Helin Bölek has become a martyr,” the band said on its Twitter account on Thursday.

Bölek - alongside bandmate İbrahim Gökçek - had been on an intermittent hunger strike of more than 250 days to demand the lifting of concert bans on the group, an end to raids on the band’s cultural centre, and the release of imprisoned band members. 

The folk collective has performed in various line-ups since it was formed in 1985 and has released 23 albums. But it has not been allowed to perform since 2016 as the Turkish authorities have accused members of being affiliated to the DHKP-C, a militant Marxist group considered to be terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union.

Grup Yorum runs the İdil Cultural Centre in Okmeydanı, Istanbul, which has been raided by the police more than 10 times in the last two years. A total of 30 people were arrested in these raids and seven members of the band remain in detention, Bianet said.

Bölek and Gökçek were arrested in early 2019. Bölek was released at the end of 2019 and continued her hunger strike, while Gökçek was released in February 2020 on medical grounds. However, both were arrested again on March 11 and taken to Ümraniye Training and Research Hospital. They were again released on March 16.

An urgent appeal released by friends of Grup Yorum on March 19 stated that Mustafa Kocak had been transferred to Kırklar prison, Izmir, where he had decided to start a “death fast”.