PMQs: Intervene to stop hunger-strike tragedy, Liz Saville Roberts

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Plaid Westminster Leader urges UK Government to listen to Kurdish hunger strikers

During today’s (8 May) Prime Minister’s Questions, Plaid Cymru’s Westminster Leader, Liz Saville Roberts MP, urged Theresa May to listen to Wales-based Kurdish hunger striker, Imam Sis, who is calling for the Westminster Government to apply pressure on Turkey to uphold the human rights of Kurds in the country.

Imam Sis, who lives in Newport, is on the 143rd day of an indefinite hunger strike initiated in protest to the isolation of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan, who has been imprisoned by Turkey since 1999. Mr Sis’s condition is worsening rapidly and there are concerns that irreversible damage to his health has already been done.

Abdullah Öcalan is a Kurdish leader, who founded the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in 1980, which sought to set up an independent Kurdish state. Öcalan was then abducted from Nairobi, Kenya in 1999 by the Turkish Government, and has been kept in conditions of harsh solitary confinement virtually ever since. He has also been denied access to his lawyer since 2011, and has only been granted two visits since April 2015.

A number of other Kurdish people have joined Mr Sis in his hunger strike, including, Memed Aksoy, also of Newport, who began his hunger strike on Saturday the 6th of April. This is alongside Nahide Zengin, Ali Poyraz and Mehmet Sait Yilmaz in London who began their hunger strikes on 14 March 2019. Leyla Guven, an elected member of the Turkish Parliament, the first to go on hunger strike, is on day 184. Hundreds of other Kurdish political prisoners also incarcerated in Turkey are on hunger strike, seven have already committed suicide as a result.

In her question to the Prime Minister, Ms Saville Roberts highlighted a cross-party letter, signed by 50 MPs and Welsh Assembly Members, calling on the Foreign Secretary to apply both public and diplomatic pressure on Turkey. In the letter, Ms Saville Roberts claims that Turkey’s treatment of Mr Öcalan breaches a number of international human rights treaties to which it is a signatory, such as The International Bill of Human Rights, European Convention for the Protection for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and most importantly, as a member of Council of Europe, the European Convention of Human Rights.

In her question to the Prime Minister, Ms Saville Roberts said:

“32 year old Imam Sis, of Newport, is on his 143rd day of an indefinite hunger strike, and the condition of his health is now critical. He is one of many Kurds on hunger strike around the world, including four others in the UK, protesting the treatment of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan imprisoned in Turkey, whose human rights are clearly being breached by the Turkish Government. 

“The Honourable Member for Newport East, 48 other MPs and Welsh Assembly Members and I have today written to the Foreign Secretary asking him to apply pressure on Turkey to uphold the human rights of the Kurds.

“I am confident that the Prime Minister respects the urgency and gravity of the situation. Will she please commit to intervening?” 

In the letter, also signed by 50 MPs and AMs  – including members of Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats and the Green Party – Ms Saville Roberts says:

“We call upon yourself as UK Foreign Minister to apply both public and diplomatic pressure on Turkey to uphold its legal human rights obligations.

“We also call upon the UK Government Foreign Office to write immediately to the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture carries outs its duties and obligations and immediately visits Imrali Prison to assess the conditions of Abdullah Öcalan. We also request that the UK’s representatives in the Council of Europe to request the same from the Committee for the Prevention of Torture.

“We believe the CPT’s active dialogue with Turkey and its reliance on a 2016 report is simply not an adequate response to a growing crisis. A visit by CPT would not only help bring an end to the Hunger

“Strikes and the loss of the striker’s precious lives, but help ease Kurdish people’s concerns across the world and potentially re-ignite dialogue and the peace process.”

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