Turkey, release hunger striking Kurdish politician - U.S. activist

Leyla Güven, the imprisoned Kurdish politician who has been on a hunger strike for two months in Turkey, is “a major inspiration to people throughout the world” and should be freed, prominent American activist and academic Angela Davis wrote in the New York Times.

Güven, a deputy for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), is in prison pending trial in Diyarbakır, in southeast Turkey, after being arrested in January 2018 for criticising Turkey’s military operation against Kurdish militias in northwest Syria. She was elected to Turkey’s parliament five months later, in the June 2018 elections.

Güven is one of nine HDP deputies currently behind bars in Turkey, including former co-chair, Selahattin Demirtaş. The party is particularly vulnerable to prosecution due to perceived links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an outlawed group that has fought Turkey for Kurdish self-rule since the 1980s.

Ankara’s treatment of jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who has been in almost total isolation for four years, drove Güven to begin a hunger strike in November. Two months later, her health has deteriorated significantly. Suffering stomach cramps, low blood pressure and other problems, she was unable to attend her mother’s funeral earlier this month.

“Having dedicated her political efforts over the years to the struggle against the Turkish state’s illegal military invasions and occupations of Kurdish regions and against Turkey’s continuing human rights abuses, she now offers her life in protest of the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and other Kurdish political prisoners,” Davis wrote in a letter to the Times’ editor on Wednesday.

“Ms. Guven is a major inspiration to people throughout the world who believe in peace, justice and liberation. I join all those who support her and stand in condemnation of the repressive conditions of Mr. Öcalan’s imprisonment.”

Like Güven, Davis took part in a 1970 hunger strike to protest prison conditions, while she herself was in prison. Today she is a professor emerita in the History of Consciousness Department at University of California, Santa Cruz, and former director of its feminist studies department.

“Those who have spoken out against the indiscriminate killing of thousands of Kurdish people by the Turkish Army since the breakdown of the peace process in 2015 have been criminalized in multiple ways,” Davis wrote, adding that she and her fellow American activists “have been emboldened over the years by the courageous actions of Kurdish political prisoners — especially by the women who have resisted American-type prisons in Turkey.”

In closing, Davis urged Turkey to release Güven. “As other imprisoned political figures have been released upon election to Parliament, so, too, should Ms. Güven be freed.”