More than 2,000 inmates in Turkish prisons are on a hunger strike, some for nearly two months. Hundreds are near death, vowing to oppose a shift from group cells to U.S. style high security units in which prisoners are held for years in isolation and incommunicado. Turkish and international human rights groups charge that the single-person cells will make the abuse of prisoners even more easy and common. This in a prison system in which inmates are already subject to torture and fatal beatings.
Late last week, 5,000 soldiers stormed 20 prisons around Turkey using helicopters, bulldozers and massive quantities of tear gas. During a fire at one prison, 27 people burned to death. One woman who survived briefly, shouted out "They are burning us to death." Nonetheless, the New York Times repeated the Turkish government’s claim that it was the prisoners who set themselves on fire.
Turkey is a key link in U.S. geopolitical strategy. Since 1993, President Clinton has approved $8.3 billion worth of weapon sales and giveaways to Turkey. After Israel and Egypt, Turkey had garnered the most U.S. foreign aid until it was recently displaced from the number three spot by Colombia.
Those U.S. weapons and aid dollars have enabled Turkey to prosecute a 13-year counterinsurgency war against its Kurdish population while at the same time maintaining a police state. Many of the prisoners targeted in the crackdown are in jail for opposing the government’s repressive policies.
- Sebnem Korur, Professor of Criminal Medicine Turkish Doctor’s Association. She is the forensic physician who bought to light previous prison massacres by authorities who had beaten prisoners to death. She will also be on the team that evaluates the recent deaths and abuses.
- Yavuz Onen , Head of Human Rights Foundation, Ankara
- Arturul Kerkchu, Turkish journalist with the Independent News Network. He served 17 years in jail for opposition to the government.
- Bob Bazzanko , Professor of History at the University of Texas, Houston