Cosatu and SACP protest outside the Turkish Consulate in Cape Town on Friday in support of Leyla Guven, who is on day 124 of a hunger strike in protest against the isolation of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan. Picture: Nic Bothma/EPA
COSATU and the SACP marked International Women’s Day this week by protesting outside the Turkish consulate in Cape Town, calling for the release of Abdullah Ocalan and all political prisoners in Turkey.

Protesters from Cosatu, the SACP and the Kurdish Human Rights Action Group (KHRAG) carried placards of Leyla Guven, the former mayor and democratically elected Kurdish member of the Turkish parliament, who has been on hunger strike for 124 days.

Guven is risking death after 17 weeks without food, as she calls for the end of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan’s isolation on Imrali Island and the end to his years of solitary confinement.

“We are calling on all freedom-loving people to support the Kurdish people in their struggle for freedom and human rights. We urge all women to stand in solidarity with Leyla Guven and all other hunger strikers, and support the call for the release of Ocalan and all political prisoners,” Fazela Mahomed of the KHRAG said.

“We call on Turkey to end human rights abuses and resume negotiations with Ocalan for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.”

Guven was arrested and detained in January last year for her criticism of the Turkish army’s brutal invasion of Afrin in northern Syria. In the context of increased repression and the erosion of democracy, on November8 Guven began a hunger strike from her prison cell to break the systematic isolation of Ocalan.

Since then, hunger strikes have spread to prisons across Turkey, and as of March 1, all Kurdish political prisoners have embarked on a hunger strike. Women in capitals across the world have now joined in the hunger strike in solidarity, and 50 Nobel Peace laureates have signed a joint letter calling for Ocalan’s release.

The four decades-old conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurdish liberation struggle has reached its most violent episode since the collapse of the peace talks in 2015. Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party, a revolutionary armed guerrilla movement founded in 1978, had embarked on a genuine search for peace since 1993, announcing several unilateral ceasefires and initiating negotiation processes. Ocalan, who has been held in the Imrali High Security Prison since 1999, has not been allowed to meet his lawyers since 2011 and has only been allowed one family visit since 2016.

“This a denial of his fundamental rights as a political prisoner,” one protester said outside the consulate.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees report that the Turkish state has systematically abused human rights and committed war crimes against the Kurds.

Entire towns were razed to the ground in the bombardment by Turkish forces of Kurdish areas of eastern Turkey using heavy artillery, particularly in 2015 and 2016. This led to the death of hundreds of civilians and the forced displacements of hundreds of thousands. In Cizre, hundreds of civilians were trapped in basements for days, and were burned alive by the army.

* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media's foreign editor.