Protest musicians on death fast since June in critical condition

Musicians should not be in prison because of singing songs, says the HDP.

One of the most famous leftist political music bands in Turkey, Group Yorum has been under constant pressures and harassment of the government, especially after the abortive military coup in July 2016. Band members have been facing detentions, arrests, and bans due to their political ideas. Some members have been on hunger strike for over 230 days to protest these unlawful pressures. Two of them did turn their hunger strikes into death fast in January.

Group Yorum (“interpretation” in Turkish) was established against the backdrop of the repressive political climate after the 1980 military coup. It has produced twenty-three albums and one film since 1985. Many concerts and albums of the band were banned, while several band members have been arrested and even tortured. Despite such oppression, the band is still very popular both at home and abroad.

Over the last three years, the police have raided at least eight times the İdil Cultural Center in İstanbul, where the band carries out its activities. During the raids, musical instruments of the band were either broken or taken away, music books damaged. According to a statement by the band, the police arrested a total of 30 people in these raids. Band members initiated a hunger strike in June 2019 in protest of these attacks. The band demands the release of its arrested members, removal of arrest warrants against some other members, termination of incessant police raids into the İdil Cultural Center, and an end to arbitrary bans on their concerts and cultural events.

The health condition of hungers strikers is rapidly deteriorating. Band member İbrahim Gökçek has been in Silivri Prison since 1 March 2019. He has been on hunger strike since 18 June and turned the strike into death fast on 4 January 2020. Band member Helin Bölek began her hunger strike on 19 June while in prison. She was released from prison on 20 November 2019, but continued with her strike due to ongoing pressures on the band. She too did turn her hunger strike into death fast on 20 January 2020. As of 12 February 2020, İbrahim Gökçek and Helin Bölek has been on hunger strike for 240 and 239 days, respectively.

In a statement on the ongoing protest of the music band, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Vice Co-chair of the HDP Responsible for Foreign Affairs, Hişyar Özsoy, said the following;

“As the HDP, we fully support the rightful demands of hunger strikers and call upon the Turkish government to immediately stop bullying, criminalizing and repressing Group Yorum and other oppositional musicians and artists in the country by means of unlawful detentions, arrests, raids, and bans. We also call upon all international democratic institutions and progressive forces to hear the voices of hunger strikers, take immediate action, and encourage Turkish authorities to meet their justified demands.

It is truly both a pity and shame for Turkey that musicians are using their emaciating bodies as a medium of protest to demand their most basic rights. Musicians should not be in prison because of singing songs!”