Prominent female lawmaker and rights activist Leyla Zana who symbolises the Kurdish struggle in Turkey has joined hundreds of Kurdish inmates who have been on hunger strike for two months, one of her colleagues said Thursday.
“Zana began to fast in her office in parliament” on Wednesday, the colleague said.
Zana, 51, was the first Kurdish woman to secure a seat in parliament in 1991 and is one of the most outspoken Kurdish activists in Turkey, receiving several human rights awards, including the European Parliament's prestigious Sakharov award in 1995.
The independent lawmaker was imprisoned between 1994 and 2004 for alleged links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist group by Turkey and much of the international community.
Another leading Kurdish independent lawmaker, Ahmet Turk, said he had tried to dissuade Zana from joining the strike for health reasons but failed.
“Her health is not good... we insistently (asked her to give up) but she is determined and we respect her will,” Turk told the Hurriyet newspaper, without elaborating on her health problems.
Turkey's government on Tuesday submitted a bill to parliament to give Kurds the right to use their own language in court, a key demand of the some 700 prisoners who have been on hunger strike since mid-September amid mounting fears about their health.
Ankara's move was deemed “inadequate” by defenders of the Kurdish cause, who are also calling for improved detention conditions for jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan -- currently in solitary confinement on a remote island prison and barred from receiving visitors.
The strikers include several lawmakers and mayors from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which has 29 seats in parliament.