On April 24 political prisoner Mustafa Koçak died after a death fast (a form of hunger strike till death if demands are not met) of 297 days. Here are four questions and answers about Mustafa and the death fasts.
Who is Mustafa Koçak?
Mustafa Koçak was a 28 year old revolutionary prisoner in T-Type Şakran Prıson in Izmir, Turkey. He spent a large portion of his young life organising the revolutionary youth movement in Turkey. He campaigned for justice for Berkin Elvan, a child of 14 years who was killed by police forces in Okmeydanı during the Gezi Uprising. He was part of student and worker movements. He also worked as street vendor selling sandwiches.
He was arrested on October 2017 and was then imprisoned. He was found guilty after a show process for supposedly delivering the gun to DHKP-C fighters that took the prosecutor of the Berkin Elvan case hostage. While there was no evidence he was found guilty on witness statements by Berk Ercan and Cavit Yılmaz. Berk Ercan is notorious for his false witness statements on various revolutionaries that led to the imprisonment of more than 300 people. Cavit Yılmaz on the other hand later fled the country and publicly stated that the statement he gave to the authorities was false and given under circumstances of torture. Even after he publicly stated this Mustafa remained imprisoned.
Why did he pick a death fast?
Mustafa was given twice the aggravated life sentence after the show process, meaning he basically had to spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance of early release or pardoning. He also believed in his innocence and started a hunger strike to make his voice heard to have a new and fair trial. He didn’t demand his release, he only wanted to get in a courtroom again under fair and legal circumstances, not a show process like before. He later turned his hunger strike into a death fast, meaning that there was no way of stopping the action without his demands being met.
Turkey, alongside with countries like Ireland and Palestine, has a big history of hunger strikes and death fasts. Revolutionaries like Mustafa have done death fast actions before, with the biggest the death fasts of 2000 that lasted almost 7 years and claimed 122 lives. Recently Grup Yorum member Helin Bölek died in a death fast in Istanbul. Death fasts are a way for revolutionaries in times of heavy oppression to draw attention to oppression. With limited ways to make their voices be heard to the masses, they resort to fasting to death when deemed necessary.
Mustafa was psychologically and mentally tortured during his death fast. He was kidnapped by the authorities from his cell to force-feed him, which is according to European Court of Human Rights a crime against human rights. Because he refused this he was tortured for four days straight. More than 80 times they stuck a needle into his body that he ripped off, leaving various wounds. They raped him with a police baton in his rectum and beat and threatened him repeatedly. He didn’t quit and resisted the torture until they were forced to bring him back to the prison.
What other death fasts are there?
Right now, the most critical one is the death fast conducted by the revolutionary music band Grup Yorum. Two members were in a death fast, Helin Bölek and İbrahim Gökçek. Helin died on April the 3rd. Grup Yorum is heavily terrorised by Turkish state fascism with there concerts being banned, members being imprisoned and warrant for rewards. Their cultural centre Idil Kültür Merkezi is frequently raided by the police. To counter these attacks, they’re conducting a death fast.
There are also two lawyers in prison on a death fast; Ebru Timtik and Aytaç Ünsal from Halkın Hukuk Bürosu (People’s Law Office). Their office is also raided frequently by the police and most of the lawyers from the office are unjustly imprisoned. Their office is known to help various workers, revolutionaries and activists with their cases and they’re actively representing political prisoners all over the country in court.
The other two cases of death fasts are conducted by revolutionary prisoners Didem Akman and Özgür Karakaya are also on a death fast for a fair process. These two prisoners have spend long years in prison without a fair trial to be seen yet.
How to show solidarity?
The situation continues to be critical and the death fast resistances need urgent solidarity. From around the globe people and organizations have shown solidarity by taking pictures and videos with solidarity messages to raise awareness. Street actions like demonstrations, graffiti, hanging banners etc also help in raising awareness. Contacting local politicians and human rights groups with this issue can also be helpful. The twitter page
is dedicated to the resistance of Grup Yorum and other death fast actions. Solidarity is vital in these times!