Kurdish deputy, freed from Turkish jail, vows to press on with hunger strike

Diyarbakir (Turkey) (AFP) –


Despite being released from jail, pro-Kurdish deputy Leyla Guven has vowed to maintain a hunger strike she launched over two months ago until Turkish authorities improve prison conditions for Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Guven was freed under judicial control on Friday after serving a one-year term for labelling the Turkish military operation against a Syrian Kurdish militia an "invasion".

She launched a hunger strike on November 8 while in jail to protest Ocalan's prison conditions.

"I uttered a scream in the dark... I started by daring to die for this cause", she said, since her demand to improve Ocalan's detention conditions may never be fulfilled.

The 55-year-old, an MP from the pro-Kurdish Democratic Peoples' Party (HDP), was speaking to AFP on Wednesday in her home in the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir.

Guven, who wears a surgical mask over her mouth to reduce the risk of infection in her weakened state, said she was determined to keep up the hunger strike despite the risks to her health.

- 'Isolation is inhumane' -

"This action has one specific purpose: as a Kurdish politician, I've kept saying that (Ocalan's) isolation is inhumane".

Ocalan, one of the founders of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), has been serving a life sentence on a prison island off Istanbul since his 1999 capture.

The PKK - listed as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies - has waged a decades-old insurgency against the Turkish state seeking independence, and more recently autonomy, for Turkey's Kurdish minority.

Some 250 prisoners all over Turkey have launched hunger strikes in support of Guven, who is trying to pressure the Turkish government to allow Ocalan to hold regular meetings with his family members and lawyers.

While Guven was in jail in Diyarbakir, the government this month allowed the PKK leader to meet with his brother Mehmet. It was the first visit in over two years.

"I don't want anything that is not in the law..." Ocalan "should benefit from what rights he has under the laws of Turkey," Guven said.

"I have one single goal: that the isolation will be lifted."

Guven shared some details of the meeting after Mehmet visited her early this week.

Ocalan issued a message through his brother that "nobody should die for me, may it be through setting themselves on fire or hunger strikes. That would aggravate my burden", according to Guven.

Guven said it was her personal decision to go on hunger strike.

- 'Serious weakness' -

At her home, Guven is accompanied by a voluntary health care professional. Her blood pressure is constantly checked.

Visitors wear shoe covers at home and masks over their mouths. Her daughter Sabiha Temizkan is constantly by her mother's side.

Like other hunger strikers in Turkey she is taking sugared or salted water, and she said her health is good given the circumstances.

But she has refused to undergo any stringent medical checks.

"A delegation came from the Diyarbakir Doctors' Chamber to examine me. I've already told them I would not accept treatment," she said.

"I am suffering from a serious weakness. I had difficulty after my release from prison but I didn't accept treatment."

She has also had no contact with any government officials so far, she said.

The Turkish government accuses the HDP of being a political front for the PKK. Several of the party's MPs are in jail, including its former co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag.

Guven lashed out at the "fascist" ideology pursued by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its right-wing ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

And she sounded optimistic that her voice has been heard.

"Everyone sees the isolation is inhumane... What do we want? What does an HDP MP want? She wants democracy, human rights, and equal justice," she said.