Leyla Guven, a Turkish parliamentarian from the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), has been imprisoned for over a year and engaged in a hunger strike for the past 77 days. Her daughter Sabiha Temizkan implied on Wednesday that 55-year-old Guven is near death.
“I saw her for the last time over a week ago. I was supposed to see her again today but she couldn’t make it to the visiting room. Her health is in a very poor condition,” Temizkan told the BBC, reporting her mother has lost almost 20 pounds and is now having difficulty drinking the sugary liquid that keeps her alive.
Temizkan said her mother has given instructions not to feed her if she loses consciousness, effectively ordering her hunger strike to continue until it kills her.
“It gives me unimaginable pain to see my mother going through this, but I cannot ask her to end the hunger strike because she says she is doing this for peace,” Temizkan said.
The BBC noted that over 250 of Turkey’s political prisoners have gone on hunger strikes in solidarity with Guven. Thousands rallied in the heavily Kurdish city of Diyarbakir last weekend to show their support for her. An international petition has been launched demanding her release.
Guven was arrested in January 2018 on terrorism charges because she criticized Turkey’s military incursion of Syria to fight Kurdish militia groups. Prosecutors accused her of “establishing and managing an armed terrorist organization” and “making propaganda for terrorists,” demanding a sentence of over 30 years in prison.
Guven ran for office from prison in June 2018 and won a seat in parliament, prompting a court to order her release because she inherited legislative immunity from prosecution and because the prosecution never introduced much in the way of evidence against her. The order was overturned on appeal and she remained in jail along with several other HDP representatives, including party leader Selahattin Demirtas, who ran for president from jail in the same election cycle.
Guven began her hunger strike in early November to protest the treatment of Kurdish prisoners, particularly Abdullah Ocalan, who is held in isolation at an island prison. Ocalan is the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Kurdish separatist party that is considered a terrorist organization by the Turkish and U.S. governments. Guven said that holding Ocalan incommunicado is an “obstacle on the path to permanent social peace.”
Kurdish activist and author Nurcan Baysal, briefly imprisoned with Guven for the same offense of protesting the Turkish offensive against Syrian Kurds, warned last week that if Guven dies on her hunger strike, Turkey will lose not only a “determined, diligent Kurdish politician” but a “big chance for peace.”