The Welsh Assembly has taken a historic stance in support of Newport resident and hunger striker Imam Sis and his calls for international solidarity and action on the isolation of Kurdish political prisoner Abdullah Öcalan.
Welsh trade unions including Unite Youth Wales, UNISON Cardiff County, FBU Wales, PCS and IWW Cymru campaigned with precision and passion to support the motion raised by Plaid Cymru. Without the grassroots activity of rank and file trade unionists and activists applying pressure on AM’s the motion in support of Imams demands might not have passed.
The Council of Europe raises concerns
Imam was himself inspired by the actions of then-imprisoned MP of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) Leyla Güven, whom In order to protest the unlawful conditions of Turkish political prisoners, began an indefinite hunger strike on 7 November 2018.
Since then, more than 8,000 political prisoners across Turkey, and numerous members of the international community in Europe, the UK, North America, and the Middle East have joined Ms Güven in declaring an indefinite hunger strike, with the sole demand of ending the isolation imposed on Öcalan. Many of the hunger strikers are now suffering serious health problems, but refuse medical treatment until the isolation of Öcalan is lifted
In January 2019, the Council of Europe passed a resolution expressing concern regarding the human rights situation in Turkey and the condition of the hunger strikers, as well as calling on Turkey to authorize immediate publication of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture’s (CPT) findings on Öcalan.
However, this resolution has been insufficient in pressuring Turkey to budge on the issue of isolation, and the situation is now beyond urgent. The hunger strikers are calling for all possible pressure to be put on Turkey to end the isolation of Öcalan before the situation escalates out of control and there are mass casualties.
Welsh Assembly makes history
Wales became the first parliament in the world to declare its international solidarity with the Kurdish Hunger Strikes following a Plaid Cymru motion backed by backbench Labour AMs on Wednesday 20th March.
The motion called on the devolved government to write in its official capacity to the European Councils Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT). The CPT in its last report on Imrali island prison, where Mr Öcalan has been held in extreme isolation for 20 years, called on;
Turkish authorities to make sure that all prisoners at Imralı Prison are able, if they so wish, to receive visits from their relatives and lawyers.
The Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) has visited İmralı seven times since 1999. Very few of the improvements they have called for have been implemented.
The CPT’s last visit to İmralı was on 28-29 April 2016, and Turkey only gave permission for the publication of the report of this visit in March 2018. The hunger strikers are also demanding that the CPT revisit İmralı Island Prison immediately, as is within their capacity.
I would like to say in my name and my party’s that we are in solidarity with the ongoing hunger strikes around the world. My brother and comrade Imam Sis, who is on a hunger strike in Wales, and other hunger strikers continue their protest with a humane and lawful demand to end the isolation imposed upon Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan. The Turkish state should take urgent steps for the democratic and peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue. We must hear the voice of our brothers and sisters on hunger strikes and we must amplify them. One person deprived of democracy and human rights is all of us being deprived. Öcalan’s stripping of his rights is unacceptable.
Adam Price AM – Plaid Cymru leader
Your fight is our fight
Imam told me he’s not on hunger strike because he wants to die. It’s because he wants to celebrate life. At first, that might seem like a contradiction, but actually, it’s in keeping with this phenomenon that many sub-state nations experience—that of asserting a positive in the face of a challenging negative. That’s something that small nations with more powerful neighbours, like the Kurds, like the Welsh, will have an affinity with, and in that light, Imam’s resolution, though drastic, though concerning, is actually not paradoxical at all. The Kurdish centre in Newport where Imam is living was established with the aid of my predecessor, Steffan Lewis, and I know that this is something he would have supported wholeheartedly. Imam, too, is caring, thoughtful; he is an honourable man whose only concern is seeking justice for his brothers and sisters in their Kurdish homelands. I’m deeply concerned about his welfare, and I fear the worst may come to pass unless his reasonable demand for Mr Öcalan to be treated humanely is met.
I send my solidarity to all my Kurdish comrades and the Kurdish people in the name of all members and administrators of the Plaid Cymru. Your fight is our fight. This is a fight for honour, peace and justice. You carrying this resistance with your bodies for the freedom of your people shows how great your struggle is. We will not stop until the Kurdish people achieve their rights.
Delyth Jewell AM – Plaid Cymru shadow minister for international affairs
Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour join international solidarity
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party spoke in support of the demands of Imam Sis in a speech at a campaign rally in Newport on Saturday the 30th of March and the next day Imam was visited by Labour MP and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Rojava (Democratic Federation of Northern Syria) Lloyd Russell-Moyle, along with MP for Enfield Southgate Bambos Charalambous. On the 2nd of April, Lloyd Russell raised the issue in the UK parliament securing a commitment from Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to ‘look into it’
Plaid Cymru and Labour join
The isolation Öcalan by the Turkish state is to be debated today, April 3rd in the Swedish Parliament, following a proposal from Left Party MP Amineh Kakabaveh.
Last week Martin Dolzer MP (Die Linke – Left Party) staged a 3-day hunger strike in support of the Kurdish hunger strikers.
In March tens of thousands marched in Strasbourg while the council of Paris voted to make Leyla Güven an honorary citizen of Paris following a motion from La France Insoumise (the radical left-wing party led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon).
Octagenarian lawyer begins a 5-day hunger strike
Margaret Owen OBE, lawyer, Patron of Peace in Kurdistan, and Director of
I am appalled that the UK government is supporting the Turkish state in its persecution of the Kurdish people, I have visited the Kurdish regions of Turkey and Syria on numerous occasions to conduct trial observations and research projects and have seen the countless injustices with my own eyes. I recently visited Leyla Güven MP, the original hunger striker, who is now critically ill having refused all foods for over 150 days. I feel I must now do the only thing left to me to protest, to try to get some press coverage of what is happening, to shine a light on a very desperate situation for a whole people. Abdullah Öcalan is the true representative of the Kurdish people and an injustice to him is experienced as an injustice to all. That is why his position is so critical to a peaceful political solution to this crisis.
Margaret Owen OBE
Margaret Owen has joined three members of the Kurdish community Ali Poyraz, Nahide Zengin and Mehmet Yilmaz at the Kurdish Community Centre in Harringay, London.
How can you help the campaign?
With growing support and international solidarity in the trade union movement, devolved governments and the Parliamentary Labour Party the Freedom for Ocalan campaign is calling on trade unionists and activists to support the many local campaigns now running throughout the UK and Europe.
If you’re a member of a trade union we ask that you support us by requesting your branch, regional or national trade union affiliate now.
Members of political parties able to pass motions at a branch or constituency level, particularly Labour members can use this model motion.
Residents in London who wish to add their voice to the growing pressure on the London Assembly and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, asking them to add their weight to the calls for the European Council to instruct the CPT to investigate, could write a letter to their representative using this model.
Demos in your area
Supporters of the campaign in Wales, encouraged by the work the Welsh Assembly are invited to join a solidarity march planned for Cardiff on Sunday 7th of April with local trade unions including Unite Wales Youth, joining local activists at 11.45am on Wellfield Road, Roath.
Activists in London and the South East are invited to join the Kurdistan Students Union demonstration outside 10 Downing Street, at 14.00 on Saturday April 13th.