Silivri Prison Punishes the Kurdish Hunger Strikers as Turkey embarks on a ‘Peace Process’


Last night on the streets of Kadıköy we ran into an old friend that we haven’t seen in years. She asked how my wife’s father was doing. Oh, as fine as can be expected, we answered. And ‘How long has he been in prison at this point?’

Our answer, I think, shocked us both—a year and a half.

That time has flown by, and yet it’s hard to remember a time when my father-in-law, Kemal Seven, was not a political prisoner. We’ve taken this process a day at a time and ignored the cumulative effect. Life has carried on; we’ve maintained contact with him through Wednesday visitations at Silivri prison and ten minute Monday morning phone calls—a tenuous connection, but we have weathered it.

Then today I saw the news—91 of the Kurdish political prisoners at Silivri’s Number 2 L Type Prison will be punished for participating in the Kurdish Hunger Strike last fall. A total of 237 months of ‘communication punishment’ which means no visitation, no phone calls, letters, or post cards. Their crimes? Insubordination. When guards tried to drag away the first waves of hunger strikers—their fellow prisoners tried to stop them and then banged on doors and walls with their fists once they’d been taken away. My father-in-law Kemal Seven himself was slapped with 17 months of isolation. I saw the sentence on the Bianet website and thought I must be misunderstanding the Turkish. I reread the sentence over and over again.

‘17 months, no visitations. 12 days isolation in a cell, and five months, no communications of any kind.’


There hasn’t been much news about this anywhere in the mainstream press. The headlines are filled with the ‘Peace Process’. Abdullah Ocalan and the AKP are negotiating, heralding a historic break in the gridlock between the government and Kurdish activists. The PKK has agreed to withdraw over Turkey’s border in return for…well that’s still not clear. There is vague talk of rights and constitutional reform. At Ocalan’s recommendation, a committee of ‘Wise People’ has been appointed to tour the country and research the issue. And a long awaited ‘Fourth Judicial Reform’ has been passed which, in the words of Amnesty International, makes cosmetic changes ‘to minimize criticism but leave most restrictions on freedom in place.’ I think Amnesty’s analysis may fit everything the government is doing.

What comes down to us ordinary folks is a hope that we know is naive, but since we are so desperate for it, we cling to it anyway—we willingly suspend our disbelief, in the words of Samuel T. Coleridge. Then when something happens to confirm our naivete, it is all the more crushing because we allowed ourselves to be tricked again.

Hope! There is so much talk of hope in the papers and on TV. This is it, they say. This is the end of all the long guerilla war and century of oppression. This is Turkey’s South Africa moment.

Then why continue persecution of political prisoners? Why, for instance, last Thursday, May 2nd, were 13 students in the Sivas KCK case sentenced to a total of 110 years? Why rob my family of their father, brother, husband and son for 17 months?

I cannot exaggerate what this visitaion ban is going to do to my family—my wife, her sisters, her aunts and uncles and grandfather live for Wednesday when they can go to Silivri and see the man the government stole from us. Our whole week often revolves around that one day. We don’t speak of his imprisonment much anymore, but it is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. The sense of injustice is something palpable. I woke up today with tears in my eyes—rage and sorrow and worry for my wife all rolled into one ugly emotion. The last visitation—and last in every sense of the word—did not go well. Her dad is having kidney trouble apparently. His health is not so good. And now there is to be 5 months of silence with that in our minds.

This day feels like the day that we first learned he had been arrested. The process was the same. My wife was acting odd. I knew something was wrong but she couldn’t say. A strange, awkward silence followed us like a ghost. Then the full weight of the terrible news.

Back in October of 2011, the day he was arrested my wife told me we would be late to meet our friends for a concert. I pressed for a reason. She said we had to go to Aksaray. Why? No answer. After a lot of prodding, she told me we had to go to the security bureau at Aksaray. And finally I learned her father had been taken on a morning raid.

This time, in May of 2013, she told me her sister had talked to her dad on the phone last Monday. The closed trial had finished and the hunger strikers were going to be punished. There would be a month of no visitations. A month—annoying but not devastating. But then she was strangely moody for a few days. She smiled, but it was like a light had gone out in her eyes, and then this morning I read in the paper that the isolation is to last 17 months. A year and a half—no contact, no hugs or words of reassurance. Nothing!

The latest shocking bit of news allows me to step outside of the situation and look back at the cumulative effect, at the past year and a half of political nightmare. We have been like rocks, you see, a wall of stone against the raging lodos winds that rush at Istanbul from the Marmara Sea. We do not show the day to day wear and tear of the waves crashing in on us—no crying, no depression or woe-is-us moaning and groaning—but when you look at these same rocks as they were a year and a half ago and compare them with today, you see how much has been worn away and you wonder how much longer they can hold out against the storm before everything falls apart.

The list of prisoners with the most severe punishment is as follows:

  • ⇒ Celalettin Delibaş 18 months with no visitations, 4 months prohibition from all social functions.
  • ⇒ Kemal Seven—17 months with no visitations, 5 months ban on communications, 12 days of confinement to his cell.
  • ⇒ Tuncer Özdoğan, 12 months with no visitations, 5 months ban on communication, 12 days confinement to his cell and 1 month prohibition from all social functions.
  • ⇒ Hüsnü Çetin 14 months with no visitations. 20 days discipline. 4 months ban on communication.
  • ⇒ Ahmet Yılmaz 24 months with no visitation, 6 months ban on communication, 25 days confinement to his cell.