Just before she died earlier this month, Gulsuman Donmez wrote a
letter to her 11-year-old, son Sinan.
"I love you more than life ... and I don't know how to tell you
how happy I am," she wrote.
She is one of 15 people who have died in a bitter protest over
conditions in Turkish prisons. Thirteen inmates and two of their
relatives have starved themselves to death since late last month,
and dozens of others are in critical condition.
The hunger strike began last October as a protest against
controversial prison reforms. The worst, prisoners say, is the
policy of moving inmates from large dormitory wards into small
cells, where, they say, they are isolated and beaten by brutal
In December, security forces raided prisons across the country to
enforce the transfer of more than 1,000 people. Thirty prisoners and
two soldiers died in four days of clashes, but the hunger strike did
not come to an end.
Led by members of hard-line left-wing groups, the strike has
generated little public sympathy. But it has become another test of
Turkey's battered human rights image. With some 800 inmates taking
part in the protest, criticism of the government is beginning to
Even President Ahmet Necdet Sezer has urged the government to
take more urgent steps to protect prisoners' lives. But the justice
minister, Hikmet Sami Turk, has said there is "no question of
negotiating with terrorists."
Most of the hunger strikers are members of the outlawed
Revolutionary People's Liberation Army-Front or similar Marxist
groups that have claimed responsibility for scores of attacks and
assassinations over the past decade.
The government has promised to implement legal reforms in order
to ease the regime of isolation, which is the main focus of the
protest. The proposals have been condemned as insufficient,
however, by lawyers and human rights groups.
"This draft bill does not really eliminate isolation. It is not
possible for the prisoners to accept this," says Oral Calislar, a
leading Turkish columnist who has been trying to mediate an end to
the hunger strike.
There is little doubt that the Turkish prison system - the wards -
had to change. Under the old regime, inmates ran their own wards
and indoctrinated new recruits. Revolutionary slogans were painted
on the walls, and there were military-style roll calls every
morning. But the new prisons, known as "F-types," have been
condemned by international human rights groups. …