DIYARBAKIR-AMED, Turkey’s Kurdish region,— A jailed co-leader of Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish party plans to begin a hunger strike Friday to protest “inhumane” conditions at the prison where he is being held, the party said Thursday.
Selahattin Demirtas’s Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the second-largest opposition party in Turkey, is campaigning against the government’s plan for constitutional changes that would bolster President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers.
Demirtas and the party’s other leader, Figen Yuksekdag, have been imprisoned along with 11 other HDP lawmakers on accusations of links to Kurdish separatists of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party PKK who have waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
The government accuses the HDP of having links to the PKK, a charge that the HDP denies. Thousands of officials from the HDP have been detained since 2015.
In a message relayed by his party, Demirtas said he was striking because officials at the prison, in the northwestern province of Edirne, had refused to discuss what he termed “unlawful practices”.
Several Kurdish convicts jailed in Edirne, as well as in Izmir, Ankara and Van, have already started hunger strike to protest prison conditions.
The HDP is calling for a “no” vote in the April 16 referendum on approving constitutional changes that would create an executive presidency and abolish the post of prime minister.
The government says the changes would provide political stability by avoiding fragile coalition governments, but critics fear it will lead to one-man rule.
The PKK took up arms in 1984 against the Turkish state, which still denies the constitutional existence of Kurds, to push for greater autonomy for the Kurdish minority who make up around 22.5 million of the country’s 79-million population.
A large Kurdish community in Turkey and worldwide openly sympathise with PKK rebels and Abdullah Ocalan, who founded the PKK group in 1974, and has a high symbolic value for most Kurds in Turkey and worldwide according to observers.