Photo: ANF English

Palestinian leftist leader and resistance icon Leila Khaled visited Leyla Güven, 55, the Kurdish parliamentarian and political leader who has maintained a hunger strike for 159 days to demand an end to the isolation of imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan. She visited Güven at her home in Amed/Diyarbakir on Monday, 15 April.

Güven, who was elected as an HDP (People’s Democratic Party) representative in the 24 June 2018 Turkish elections, began her hunger strike inside Turkish prisons. There are over 7,000 Kurdish political prisoners as well as thousands of Turkish political prisoners, including political activists, journalists, lawyers, and trade unionists. Most recently, 18 Turkish lawyers were sentenced to 160 years in jail collectively for their work defending political activists. Among these political prisoners is Ayse Duzkan, co-founder of BDS Turkey and longtime feminist activist and journalist who has continued to express her solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners after being jailed for serving as honorary editor for a day of a banned Kurdish newspaper.

Güven herself was accused of “terror activities” and arrested on 22 January 2018 after she objected to Turkey’s military occupation and invasion of northwestern Syria, including its attacks on the YPG there. Prosecutors demanded a 31-year sentence for Güven, accusing her of “making propaganda for terrorists”; similar allegations have been used in other cases against political activists in Turkey, leading to draconian sentences for public political work, journalism or legal defense activities.

The hunger strike began on 7 November 2018 inside the detention center, and Güven continued after her release in January 2019, after she became critically ill. A number of Kurdish political prisoners inside Turkish prisons have also joined the hunger strike against Öcalan’s isolation, while international Kurdish activists have also launched solidarity strikes in their own cities. In particular, Güven demanded that Öcalan be allowed to receive family and legal visits.

The visit came as hundreds of Palestinian prisoners are themselves on hunger strike inside Israeli occupation prisons in what they have named the Battle of Dignity 2. The strike comes in response to intensified repression inside the prisons. The demands of the strikers include access to family visits and phone calls with family members, appropriate medical care and treatment, an end to collective punishment and improved conditions for women and children prisoners.

Leila Khaled’s visit with Leyla Güven underlines the international nature of these struggles of political prisoners, confronting Zionism, imperialism, capitalism and reactionary regimes. The prisoners are on the front lines fighting injustice and repression and forging connections of struggle, reminiscent of the solidarity between Palestinian prisoners and Irish hunger strikers in the 1980s.

Earlier, Khaled sent the following letter to Leyla Güven as she continued her strike within Turkish prisons:

My dear friend Leyla Güven. Leyla in the dungeons of the persecutors, thousands of warm greetings to you.

The dungeon could not block your voice that came to us to mobilize the world’s people to fulfill the demand for the release of political prisoners, especially the great revolutionary Abdullah Öcalan.

In Turkish and Israeli prisons revolutionaries are going on hunger strike for freedom, justice, and to stop the ruling system wanting to break the voice of the people who want democracy.

On behalf of myself and in the name of Palestinian women I say that I will use my voice against all attacks against the revolutionaries.

My dear friend Leyla,

We say that the persecution of the dungeons will not continue. Your patience and your struggle will beat hunger.

The harder the hunger strike, the more honorable the struggle. The people and all the freedom lovers in the world will respond to your actions.

I kiss you on the forehead, I hold your hand.

You’re a model for all the women in the world. With the hope of freedom…

Your friend in struggle

Leila Khaled