Courageous Prison Resistance in Turkey

Protesting inhumane prison conditions hunger strikers are dying

Revolutionary Worker #1102, May 13, 2001, posted at

Revolutionary political prisoners in Turkey are continuing their courageous life-and-death struggle against the imperialist-backed Turkish government. Several hundred political prisoners, along with family members and supporters, are currently on a hunger strike against the new prisons with isolation cells, known as F type prisons. As of April 28, 20 hunger strikers have died, and many others are reportedly close to death.

The hunger strike began last October. In addition to abolition of the F type prisons, the strikers are also demanding an end to oppression of the Kurdish people; the state security courts, which are used to railroad political prisoners; and the "economic reforms" ordered by the International Monetary Fund, which are causing tremendous hardships for the masses.

Most of the political prisoners have been imprisoned under Turkey's fascist "anti-terrorism" law, which allows the Turkish state to put revolutionaries behind bars for many years for nothing more than accusation of membership in any one of the many banned organizations. The "proof" for such membership can be mere possession of a leaflet. Torture, physical assaults on women, and other brutality by the prison authorities are rampant--and documented by human rights organizations.

The struggle of the prisoners and their supporters has put a focus on the reactionary Turkish regime's brutal treatment of political prisoners. Several of the hunger strikers, including former political prisoners, are together in a house in an Istanbul shantytown. One striker, a 22-year-old woman who has had only a mixture of sugar, salt, and lemon juice for almost 170 days, told reporters, "I joined the strike so that the whole world could see. We want them to stop taking away the prisoners' rights, isolating them."

Last December, government security forces stormed 20 prisons across the country in a bloody move to force prisoners into the F type cells. At least 30 prisoners were killed and hundreds were wounded. The government has put a tight lid on information from inside the prisons. But in a report issued last month, Amnesty International said it had documented many of the claims by prisoners' families and supporters about beatings and extreme isolation in the new prisons. Amnesty reported that many prisoners had gone without any human contact for days, "apart from roll-calls, which are said to be frequently accompanied by violence." A doctor who was part of a group which was able to meet some prisoners, including hunger strikers, said, "We saw people who had been burnt, beaten--the bruises and scars were covering their faces. We were not allowed to conduct any forensic examinations though, so we could not file any reports of torture."

The Fight Against the Isolation Cells

The prisons have long been a powerful arena of struggle against Turkey's dictatorial rulers. The political prisoners draw support from the oppressed people throughout Turkey--and, in turn, the resistance within the prisons strengthens the overall struggle in that country. Maoist revolutionaries of the Communist Party of Turkey (Marxist-Leninist) (TKP(ML)) are among those in the front ranks of the struggle in the prisons. As the revolutionaries in the clutches of the enemy continue their fight behind bars, their comrades among the peasants in the countryside continue to wage a revolutionary armed struggle against the Turkish state. The TKP (ML) is a participating party in the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM).

The Turkish government has repeatedly tried to crush the resistance and revolutionary spirit of the political prisoners--and it has repeatedly failed. Since the early 1990s, the government has been moving to transfer the prisoners from ward-style prisons, where groups of prisoners are held together, into the F type prisons with small isolation cells.

The political prisoners and their supporters call the F type prisons "death cells." The Committee to Stop the Repression of Political Prisoners, based in London, described the F type isolation cells: "The cells are small and have just enough room for bunks and a table, and the prisoners have to take showers while sitting on the toilet. Some cells have television sets, but these can only be operated by the prison authorities through a central control panel. The prisoners, in other words, have no control over what they watch and when they can watch it. There are no facilities for exercise or sport, and no access to a library or canteen. Photographs confirm that these prisons have few if any external windows and there is no natural light in the cells. The prisoners will, therefore, be kept in artificial light, which will also be controlled by the authorities. Each cell has a door that leads to its own courtyard that has high walls and estimated area of 16 square meters. According to the government, the prisoners will have no more than one hour a day access to this so-called courtyard. In practice, however, access will only be granted at the discretion of the prison authorities. The cell doors will be kept closed night and day, and meals will be delivered under or through these doors."

In 1991 the prisoners fought the government's plans with mass resistance. At least 17 prisoners lost their lives in this struggle, but the defiance of the prisoners inspired mass support, and the government was forced to back down. In 1996 another attempt by the government was met with an upsurge of resistance in the prisons, including a hunger strike, and the government was forced to back off again.

Confrontations intensified through the year 2000. In July, government forces attacked Burdur prison with smoke bombs, tear gas, and nerve gas and used bulldozers to break down walls. In October, hundreds of prisoners across Turkey began the hunger strike which continues to this day.

Government's Deadly Assault on Prisoners

On December 19, the Turkish police, army, and the notorious "Special Team" security forces carried out a vicious--and cowardly--attack on political prisoners in 20 prisons. The regime used overwhelming force in their military operation against the prisoners. Bulldozers tore holes in the prison wall so that security forces could rush in and fire without warning.

The political prisoners fought back fiercely and heroically. In some prisons, the resistance against the heavily armed security forces lasted for several days. A woman prisoner who survived the attack said, "They saw us stand up and they started firing at us. After the shooting they started to bombard us with all kinds of bombs. They threw smoke bombs, sound bombs, nerve gas and pepper gas. We constantly answered them with slogans and insults. They kept shouting, 'Surrender or we will kill all of you.' We said, 'Come and kill us all if you like, but we will never surrender.'"

The Committee to Stop the Repression of Political Prisoners in Turkey reported: "The prisoners erected barricades and fought back with simple, homemade weapons. They devised gas masks from soda pop bottles, improvised slingshots and created Molotov-style cocktails from cooking gas. Despite their overwhelming superiority, and their use of Sikorsky helicopters that blocked all communications between the prisoners and the outside world, the security forces suffered the loss of several members and were repeatedly repulsed."

The Turkish government attempted to justify their murderous operation with lies and disinformation. They called their assault "Operation Restore Life"--claiming they wanted to "save the life" of the prisoners! They denied that most of the prisoners who died were killed by the security forces--and accused the prisoners of setting themselves on fire.

Citing eyewitness accounts, the Committee to Stop the Repression of Political Prisoners in Turkey reported on some of what really happened: "It was they [the security forces] who went to the top of the Bayrampasa Prison in Istanbul, cut a hole in the roof directly above the dormitory of the women prisoners (Ward 4, Block C) and poured petrol through the hole onto the women below. A woman prisoner carried out on a stretcher told how six women prisoners were burned alive by the security forces, a fact that was confirmed by nurses in the hospital treating the injured. The security forces had names and photos of certain prisoners whom they singled out for execution."

A prisoner who was in the women's ward at Bayrampasa during the assault said, "The fire quickly spread all over the dormitory. Beds and furniture began to catch fire. The people could not breathe because of the gas bombs and the smoke. It was like being in an oven. Our hair began to catch fire, and because we had barred the door we were unable to get out. We forced the door open...and those who were still able to stand up had to drag us out. [The soldiers] had water cannons. If they had wanted to they could have put the fire out. All they did was watch."

Another prisoner, who was at the Gebze prison in the city of Izmit during the assault, said, "We demanded that the injured be taken to hospitals, but they did not let anybody out before the operation ended.... At the end of the ten-hour operation, the soldiers began hitting us with everything they had in their hands."

The Struggle Continues

Through the December 19 military operation, the Turkish government forcibly moved hundreds of political prisoners into the F type prisons. But if the Turkish rulers thought they could break the will of the revolutionary prisoners, they were mistaken once again. The prisoners are persevering in their heroic resistance in the face of cruel isolation, beatings, and torture.

The current struggle of the political prisoners is taking place at a time when Turkey's reactionary rulers are facing major crisis. The government is being rocked by corruption scandals and a major downturn in the economy--further exposing the rottenness of the current ruling system. The government has had to seek "rescue packages" of billions of dollars from the IMF and other institutions in order to avoid an economic collapse; these loans will only lead to the tightening of the imperialist domination of Turkey.

The political prisoners' struggle has inspired hunger strikes, protest marches and other expressions of support in Turkey and other countries. On this May Day, support for the political prisoners on hunger strike was taken up by over 20,000 people marching through the streets of Istanbul in defiance of the police. Some of the marchers raised slogans in support of the Maoist TKP (ML).

After the December 19 clash, the Committee to Stop the Repression of Political Prisoners in Turkey reported, "Street protests against the government's vicious attack erupted into violent confrontations with the police and the Grey Wolf fascists in Ankara, Istanbul, Adana, Izmir, and several other cities. Youth and members of the prisoners' families played a key part in inspiring many others to join in attacking the police armored cars with stones and Molotov cocktails. In Istanbul's Taksim Square, 2000 people fought a pitched battle lasting an hour and a half.... The head of the police in Istanbul is reporting that the Workers and Peasants Liberation Army of Turkey, led by the Communist Party of Turkey (Marxist-Leninist) has carried out another ambush on the Turkish security forces. On December 20, in Okmeydani, an Istanbul shantytown, the guerrilla forces trapped a police car and wounded two policemen. A local office of the notorious Grey Wolves was also attacked, with one fascist killed and two seriously wounded."

In Europe, protesters occupied the offices of the European Parliament in Berne, Switzerland, and the European Commission offices in London. In London, protesters from Turkey also brought the London Eye--a giant Ferris wheel that is a major tourist attraction--to a standstill for several hours. In the U.S., residents of the Cabrini Green housing project in Chicago recently signed a banner of support for the political prisoners. The banner read: "From Cabrini to Turkey, Long Live Proletarian Internationalism! Red Salute to the Memory of the Fallen Comrades!"

A message dated December 28, 2000, from the Committee of the RIM to the revolutionary political prisoners of Turkey said in part: "The ruling classes of Turkey with the assistance of their imperialist masters want to consolidate their state and crush the revolutionary sentiments and struggles of the oppressed masses.... But you turned this dream into a nightmare for the reactionaries and capitulators. This righteous battle brought fresh air to the masses. It inspired tens of thousands of the young generation who are stepping into revolutionary life. This struggle has served People's War in Turkey and advanced the cause of overthrowing the reactionaries and imperialists. Internationally it has had the effect of raising the flag of resistance, which so urgently needs to become more visible in many part of the world.

"RIM is especially proud of this struggle because one of its participating parties, the TKP (ML), played a key and central role in staging and leading this struggle with a correct line and with revolutionary perseverance.... Comrades: Your struggle has handed the enemy a political and ideological defeat. The bombs, helicopters and assault rifles of the Turkish State failed. Audacious revolutionary struggle and unwavering confidence in the masses and our communist cause was advanced. We are confident that you will continue to fight to turn Turkey's prisons into shining trenches of combat. The revolutionary masses and their Maoist vanguard parties and organizations around the world draw inspiration from your fight and stand shoulder to shoulder with you."

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