Turkish Court Orders Release of Hunger Striking Kurdish Lawmaker
A hunger striking pro-Kurdish lawmaker, Leyla Guven, was released under supervision from prison by a Turkish court and sent home on Friday, after an 11-week fast that has left her gravely ill.
Crowds of supporters gathered at a jail in the Kurdish majority southeastern city of Diyarbakir to cheer Guven, 55, who launched her hunger strike on November 8 to protest the prison conditions for outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan.
Guven, from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was freed a few hours after the Diyarbakir court ordered her release under judicial supervision, which includes an overseas travel ban.
She was taken from the prison by an ambulance.
Guven, whose party says she has a “life-threatening” medical condition, did not attend the hearing.
The politician was arrested in January 2018 for her criticism of Turkey’s military operation against a Syrian Kurdish militia that Ankara considers an offshoot of the PKK.
She started the hunger strike in prison and was supported by more than 150 prisoners across Turkey in a show of solidarity.
But her deteriorating health sparked concern and has seen rallies to support her cause.
Turkish police used buses and barricades outside the Diyarbakir prison to try to stop photographers from taking pictures of the ailing lawmaker, as crowds of HDP supporters gathered in the area to show support.
“The authorities should not have waited for her to reach death’s door,” supporter Ramazan Yakar told AFP.
Another supporter in the crowd, Mehmet Cekikoglu, said Guven’s release did not solve the party’s problems, noting, “there are still many others held behind the bars”.
‘Strike will continue’
HDP’s co-chairwoman Pervin Buldan visited Guven at her home and said she would press ahead with the hunger strike.
“Leyla Guven keeps on with the hunger strike. She will continue at her home,” Buldan said.
She said the Guven could change her decision if Ocalan was allowed to hold regular meetings with his lawyers and family members.
The images from the meeting showed a visibly weakened Guven wearing a medical mask on her mouth.
Doctors were due to examine the lawmaker at her home later in the day and publish a report on her current state of health.
Guven’s HDP party remains under the scrutiny of the Turkish authorities, which accuse it of links to the PKK. Several of its lawmakers are behind bars, including former party leader Selahattin Demirtas.
The HDP said on Twitter the court ordered the release of Guven “who started an indefinite hunger strike… to protest the isolation of Abdullah Ocalan”.
It added: “Our struggle for democracy, peace and freedom will continue.”
Guven’s fast was aimed at pressuring the government into allowing lawyers and family members to visit Ocalan, who has been serving a life sentence for treason in an island prison near Istanbul since his capture in 1999.
Ocalan is one of the founders of the PKK which has waged a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984, and which is blacklisted as a terrorist organization by Ankara, as well as the European Union (EU) and the United States.
He was allowed to meet his brother Mehmet for the first time in more than two years on January 12, but details of the meeting have not been made public.
In 2012, hundreds of Kurdish prisoners ended a 68-day hunger strike after Ocalan urged them to do so.
Several representatives of left-wing political parties in Europe also followed Friday’s hearing.
Hakan Tas, Berlin Senator of Germany’s Left Party “Die Linke” with Turkish roots, voiced support for Guven.
“The isolation of Mr Ocalan must immediately be lifted, so Leyla Guven’s stance and resistance is also ours,” he said.
“Today we are here in Diyarbakir to support her voice.”
The Diyarbakir court, which took into account Guven’s time already served in jail, adjourned Friday and is next due to sit on May 29.