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PKK prisoner kills himself 'in protest over leader Ocalan's jail conditions'

Clashes near grave of Zulkuf Gezen whose family say he hanged himself to draw attention to the isolation of PKK founder
The last picture of Abdullah Ocalan released by the Turkish government is projected at a HDP event in 2016
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

Clashes have broken out between demonstrators and police near the grave of an imprisoned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) member whose family and local politicians say committed suicide on Sunday in protest against the jail conditions of PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan.

The exchanges erupted when police firing water cannon tried to break up supporters of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which is seen as closely affiliated with the PKK, who had gathered at his grave, an AFP reporter at the scene said on Monday.

The HDP said on Twitter that Zulkuf Gezen, 30, had killed himself in Tekirdag Prison to protest against the isolation of Ocalan.

Apart from the visit of his brother in January, the Turkish government has not allowed Ocalan’s lawyers or his relatives to visit him since September 2016, following the collapse of the peace process between Ankara and the PKK.

The 70-year-old has been serving a life sentence on Imrali Island, off the coast of Istanbul, since his capture in 1999.

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“We call on government to act responsibly and fulfill the demand to lift the isolation. From now on the political responsibility of every negativity and loss of life would be on the government," said the HDP.

In a statement to the media, Tekirdag Prosecutor’s Office denied that Gezen had committed an "act of sacrifice" over Ocalan's isolation, but had simply hanged himself.

However, Ahmet Gezen, the prisoner's uncle, told Turkish media that his nephew had killed himself to draw attention to Ocalan’s prison conditions.

Turkish media reported that Gezen was found guilty in 2010 on charges of involvement in conducting a bomb attack that killed one police officer and injured two others, along with six civilians, in Diyarbakir in 2007.

Gezen's uncle said:  "He had been serving a life sentence for the last 12 years."

Officials from the HDP and Gezen's family said the corpse was buried overnight in Diyarbakir, with only limited attendance by the family.

'Thousands' on hunger strike

Former HDP deputy Leyla Guven has been on hunger strike since November in protest over Ocalan’s jail conditions.

Prominent Kurdish politicians such as Sebahat Tuncel, the co-chair of the Democratic Regions Party, and former HDP deputy Selma Irmak, have been on hunger strike for more than 60 days.

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The HDP’s current deputies, Dersim Dag and Tayyip Temel, also joined the hunger strike 10 days ago.

Gulan Cagin Kaleli, a spokesperson for the Platform to Track Hunger Strikes, claimed on Friday that there were about 5,000 prisoners now on hunger strike over the issue.

Some analysts believe growing pressure on the government as a result of the hunger strikes by HDP politicians and PKK members forced authorities to allow Ocalan’s brother Mehmet to visit him in January.

However, the hunger strikers did not consider the visit enough to end their action.

The PKK is designated as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the European Union  and the United States. 

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