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Jailed pro-Kurdish party chief ends hunger strike

April 1, 2017

A hunger strike by the co-head of a pro-Kurdish party in Turkey was short lived after officials agreed to discuss prison conditions. The move was in support of imprisoned Kurds who abstained from food for 40 days.

Türkei Selhattin Demirtas HDP Vorsitzender bei einer Demo in Istanbul
Image: Reuters/O. Orsal

The jailed co-head of Turkey's pro-Kurdish party ended his hunger strike late Friday, less than 24 hours after it started.

People's Democratic Party (HDP) chief Selahattin Demirtas (pictured above) had called the hunger strike to protest what he called "unlawful" and "inhumane" practices prisoners were subject to, including "extensive torture," solitary confinement, unannounced cell searches and the confiscation of personal property.

Demirtas and fellow HDP lawmaker Abdullah Zeydan had sought to show solidarity with more than 100 prisoners in Turkish prisons, who had been on hunger strikes for up to 40 days.

The pair ended the hunger strike when prison officials agreed to open a dialogue on prison conditions.

Turkish police arrest protestors during a anti-government proteston November
Turkish police cracked down on Kurdish opposition following a breakdown in a ceasefire with the PKKImage: Getty Images

Facing 142 years imprisonment

Demirtas and 12 others HDP members were arrested in November on terrorism-related accusations and were still awaiting trial. Authorities accused their party of having links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Prosecutors in Turkey were reportedly seeking a prison sentence of up to 142 years for Demirtas.

Demirtas' co-leader, Figen Yuksekdag, faced up to 83 years behind bars, according to an indictment seen by Reuters news agency in February.

HDP is the second-largest opposition party in Turkey and had campaigned against a referendum on constitutional changes that would bolster President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's powers.

Kurdish inmates in Edirne, Izmir, Ankara and Van, also ended hunger strikes on Friday after the opening of a dialogue with the prison authorities and "promises" to improve the prisoners' conditions, according to a statement issued by the HDP on behalf of the "political prisoners."

Demirtas, in a separate statement, welcomed that the hunger strikes could be ended, thanks to "mutual undertakings and good intentions."

More than 2,700 members of the HDP and its sister organizations were detained or arrested since 2015, when a ceasefire and peace process broke down between the state and the PKK, reigniting violence.

aw/sms (AFP, dpa, AP)