Thousands rally in Istanbul in solidarity with hunger striker Leyla Güven

Carrying posters, placards and pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) flags, thousands of people took to the streets of Istanbul on Sunday to show solidarity with Kurdish hunger strikers, notably HDP deputy Leyla Güven, Turkish news site Gazete Karınca reported on Feb. 3.

People converged in Istanbul's Bakırköy to point out hunger strikes started to end the policy of isolation and the release of Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.  Öcalan was captured by Turkey in 1999, and after a breakdown of peace negotiations between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and PKK in 2015, has not been allowed visits by pro-Kurdish lawmakers and his lawyers since April 2015.

Leyla Güven, who is both the co-chair of the Democratic Society Congress, an umbrella organisation for Kurdish groups, and a deputy for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), began an indefinite hunger strike in prison on Nov. 8, 2018.  More than 250 political prisoners started their own, indefinite hunger strike in solidarity, according to BBC.

Güven was behind bars since January 2018 for criticising Turkey’s military operation against Kurdish forces in northwest Syria. A Turkish court in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır ruled for her release on Jan. 25. 

Following hunger strikes, Turkish authorities allowed the PKK leader’s brother to visit him in jail last month, but Güven said she would continue her hunger strike until Öcalan was allowed to meet his lawyers.

Güven’s health has deteriorated after three months of the hunger fast. The politician has complained of stomach cramps, weakness, low blood pressure and other problems.

Dozens of other inmates have joined her hunger strike, but in Turkey hunger strikers usually take tea, sugar and vitamins, meaning they can last several months without starving to death.