Euro MPs Urge Turkey to End Jail Hunger Strikes

ANKARA (Reuters)–European MPs urged EU candidate Turkey on Friday not to jail people for what they say or write and to bring to an end a lengthy campaign of hunger strikes that have claimed 23 prisoners’ lives. Several hundred inmates–mostly far leftists–are on hunger strike in protest at new jails with small cells where they say they are subjected to isolation and mistreatment. They survive on sugared or salted water and vitamins.

Turkey says the new jails meet European standards–but it has not been able to avoid western criticism over the mounting number of dead prisoners at a time when it must meet European criteria not only on prisons but also on human rights.

“Of course–the first thing that should be done is not to produce so many political prisoners,” European Parliament MP Johannes Swoboda told a news conference in Ankara for an eight-strong European Parliament delegation–after visiting new jails. “The respective laws should be amended in the light of the European criteria,” he said–while listing measures his delegation proposed to Ankara.

Turkey has pledged to meet EU accession conditions by improving its poor human rights record and easing tight restrictions on freedom of expression. But its new prisons–widely known as F-type jails–house not only people imprisoned for what they said but also others who were convicted for the use of arms.

Euro MP Daniel Cohn-Bendit said the government should end the protest by allowing 15-20 prisoners to socialize together. The cell-style jails contain rooms for one to three people–limiting contacts between large groups of inmates which officials say outlawed organizations use to recruit new members.

Turkey says it does not intend to open up communal areas until the hunger strikes end–while some international observers and human rights’ groups say only those who give up their political beliefs will be allowed to mix. Turkish security forces raided overcrowded–dormitory-style prisons late last year to end hunger strikes and break the hold of far leftists and other extremist groups over prison life. At least 30 inmates and two military policemen died in the raids.

Cohn-Bendit and Swoboda urged the Turkish government to negotiate with prison inmates to stop the hunger strikes until a solution is reached.

The Turkish authorities have refused to talk to the protesters–who they say are acting on the orders of leaders of illegal groups outside the jails.

Cohn-Bendit said Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Turk told him he would consider establishing contact with the protesters.

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