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RMT assistant general secretary to join hunger strike

STEVE HEDLEY, of Britain’s largest transport union, explains why he is joining the hunger strike that began in Turkish prisons

AS OF today, Leyla Guven, and MP for the left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in Turkey, will have been on hunger strike for 111 days.

The HDP, sister party of our Labour Party, has faced unspeakable repression.

Two former joint leaders of the HDP, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, have been in jail since 2016 for spreading “propaganda in support of a terrorist organisation” — and the same fate has also befallen many of their MPs: Guven was jailed in January 2018 for cricisism of Turkey’s illegal invasion of Syria.

The invasion, targeting the predominantly Kurdish town of Afrin in northern Syria, was a deliberate attack on the YPG and SDF forces who have heroically fought and defeated Isis.

Furthermore the invading Turkish forces include many of the very same jihadist terror gangs that have plagued and enslaved the Syrian people — yet for criticising this, Guven is the one who facing more than a 100 years in prison on charges of “terror propaganda.”

Having dedicated her political efforts to the struggle against the Turkish state’s military oppression of Kurds and other minorities, she eventually fell victim herself to this autocratic, dictatorial regime.

With no voice left but to protest from prison, and with no power but the power of her own life, she began her indefinite hunger strike.

Her demands are an end to the isolation of political prisoners and the end of the isolation of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan who is kept in solitary confinement, as the key to restarting the peace process and returning Turkey to democratic norms.

Since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan survived the attempted military coup against him in 2016, even the limited democracy that was available — a democracy where Isis terrorists were mysteriously able to cross the Syrian border into Turkey, pass police checkpoints and bomb several HDP campaign rallies — has been rolled back.

In April 2017 Erdogan pushed through an “enabling Act” to grant himself new powers. It passed by the skin of its teeth — 51.4 per cent — with international observers criticising an “unlevel playing field” during the campaigning.

At the time of this referendum, large sections of the country were under military siege by the army, cities had been bombed flat — a war was raging.

But by using the vestiges of liberal democracy and the language of “security versus terrorism,” he was able to place a new brick in his 21st-century, sleek, modern dictatorship, without embarrassing his supporters in the EU and US administrations.

Erdogan moved quickly to consolidate his sordid victory, against all those he deemed to be enemies of his project, from the top to the bottom of society.

More than 50,000 have been imprisoned and await trial. Approximately a quarter of all judges and prosecutors have been removed from their posts.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) says at least 5,000 academics and more than 33,000 teachers have also lost their jobs.

The second opposition party, the HDP, is no fringe group. Not only did it receive six million votes — more than 13 per cent of the total votes cast meaning 81 MPs in parliament — but it is a member of the Party of European Socialists — the sister party, therefore, of our Labour Party, the sister party of 540,000 Labour members here in Britain.

But almost one in three members of the HDP have been arrested since July 2015. Some 11,631 of the 37,551 members of the HDP have been detained, and 3,382 have been formally arrested.

Among those arrested were 43 HDP provincial co-chairs and 101 HDP district co-chairs, and 55 of the party’s 59 parliamentarians currently face legal charges against them.

The HDP leaders, Yuksekdag and Demirtas, had to fight the last election from jail.

And the public outcry is muted because more than 150 journalists and media personnel are now in jail too — more journalists in jail than any other country in the world.

The situation with the developing dictatorship in Turkey is one we all must pay attention to as much of the world lurches towards right-wing reaction.

Those participating in hunger strikes in Turkey are an inspiration to people throughout the world who struggle for justice against the massed forces of the elite and their state apparatus.

There are now 250 hunger strikers in Turkish prison, and the resistance is spreading. Kurdish rights activists in European countries are now joining from outside of prison walls — in Wales Imam Sis has been on hunger strike since December 16 2018.

The RMT has long supported the campaign to release Ocalan and the recognition of Kurdish rights in Turkey. RMT members have even participated in the Kurdish-led resistance to Isis as volunteers in the YPG.

The cause of justice for Kurds and democracy in Turkey is our cause and it is my cause too.

I first visited Turkey over 20 years ago and my daughter Dilara is part Kurdish, part Turkish. In the intervening period I have been back several times and witnessed not only the appalling treatment of trade unionists in Turkey, but also the persecution of minorities, foremost among them the Kurds.

The sacking and blacklisting of anyone who does not kow-tow to the Erdogan regime is now commonplace, despite fierce opposition from democratic forces.

As internationalists who believe in the brotherhood and sisterhood of the working class across national boundaries, we have been compelled to witness this repression of our class first hand: I, along with other RMT executive members, was tear-gassed in the famous Taksim Square when Turkish police attacked a peaceful crowd of labour and left demonstrators made up mainly of elderly people and youth unprovoked.

As Erdogan is now intent on subverting any remaining democracy by arresting opposition MPs, including members of the main Kurdish party the HDP, I support the decision for a hunger strike, a tactic that the helpless have used all over the world to highlight their plight and to gain international support.

By joining this protest in a symbolic 24-hour hunger strike, I hope to publicise the oppression in Turkey and to help mobilise opposition to it.

While the Erdogan regime continues to persecute the Kurds, women, LGBT campaigners, journalists, socialists and freedom fighters, we will not stand by and let the international community ignore their plight.

We call for the breaking of diplomatic and economic ties — especially an end to the disgraceful arms deals done by British and European companies.

We ask for statements of solidarity with the strikers, and condemnation of the Turkish state’s actions, from women’s organisations, left parties such as Labour, anti-fascists, trade unionists and all progressive people.

The hunger strikers cry out for justice. The world must answer with action.

Steve Hedley is assistant general secretary of the RMT. The community group Gik-Der will be holding a solidarity hunger strike from 1pm on February 28 outside Manor House station, north London.

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