3,000 prisoners on hunger strike in Turkey - rights group

There are close to  to 3,000 prisoners in Turkey who have joined a hunger strike to protest isolation in jail of outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan, the Associated Press reported a human rights group as saying on Tuesday.

 Özturk Türkdoğan, the head of the Human Rights Association, told AP that a total of 2,983 people in 90 prisons across Turkey are refusing food in protest of jail conditions for the PKK leader, who has been barred from meeting his lawyers and has had only limited family visits since the collapse of a peace process between the state and the PKK in 2015 that aimed to end three decades of conflict.

The hunger strike was launched by the co-chair of the Democratic Society Congress, an umbrella organisation for Kurdish groups and a member of parliament for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Leyla Güven in November. Güven has since been released and is continuing the strike at home. Two former pro-Kurdish lawmakers are among the thousands of prisoners who have joined Guven's strike over the following months.

Hunger strikers in Turkey traditionally refuse food, however, take vitamins and salt and sugar solutions.

Fifteen of the hunger strikers are now also refusing vitamins, Türkdoğan said.

Öcalan has been serving a life prison term on Imrali, the prison island where he has been kept since his capture in 1999. Turkey, the United States and the EU consider his group a terror organization.

Türkdogan's group says the PKK leader has not seen his lawyers since 2011 while pro-Kurdish legislators last visited him in 2015. On Jan 12, his brother was allowed a half-hour visit. 

The PKK leader has in the past conveyed messages to his rebel group through his lawyers.

In 2012, hundreds of Kurdish inmates ended a similar hunger strike, following a call by Öcalan.

Turkish authorities have not commented publicly on the hunger strikes, AP said.