As we are commemorating the 50th anniversary of Attica Prison Rebellion, we will be sharing examples of prison resistance from around the world since the beginning of the pandemic. The goal is to highlight the ubiquitous struggles against carceral tools of oppression. We’re starting with Middle East / West Asia following the escape of 6 Palestinian prisoners from Gilboa Zionist Detention Center. While we do not attempt to produce a comprehensive list, here are selected examples of prison resistance from the region (please send us other examples and more extended analyses to share!):
Middle East / West Asia
On September 6 this year, 6 Palestinian prisoners escaped through a tunnel from the high-security Gilboa prison near Jenin. Most have spent 20 years or more behind bars serving life sentences. Following the escape, the Israeli Prisons Authority has imposed punitive measures on Palestinian detainees, banning lawyers and family visits.
Iran / Ahwaz – Khuzestan
On March 30-31, 2020, security forces used excessive force to quell protests in Sepidar prison and Sheiban prison in the city of Ahwaz, Khuzestan province after some inmates set rubbish bins on fire. The protests in Sepidar prison appear to have started after authorities reneged on earlier promises to release prisoners whom the authorities did not have security concerns about as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Amnesty International estimated that 21 prisoners were killed.
Iran / Eastern Kurdistan
Over 80 prisoners escaped from a prison in the city of Saqqez in Iran’s Kurdistan province on March 27 following riots due to growing concerns among inmates about the spread of coronavirus in the prison. Mostafa Salimi, one of the escapees, was subsequently arrested by authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan and extradited to Iran where he was executed. The 53-year-old was arrested and sentenced to death in 2003 for “waging war against God” and being a member of a Kurdish opposition group.
Riots erupted in at least two overcrowded Lebanese prisons in March 2020 as inmates demanded to be released over fears the coronavirus outbreak would spread rapidly among them. Security forces reportedly responded with live fire, wounding at least 2 in Roumieh prison. In addition, dozens of inmates at the Zahle prison went on a hunger strike in order to demand an amnesty.
Turkey / North Kurdistan
The indefinite-rotating hunger strike launched on November 27, 2020 by Kurdish political prisoners in Turkey’s prisons against the isolation of Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan in Imrali island still continues and is on day 285 . The prisoners have increased the shift of days from 5 days to 15 days as of 14 July and the 50th group is now fasting. Ocalan has been in solitary confinement since 1999 when he was captured by the Turkish state, with extremely limited access to visits and lawyers.
Pakistan / Sindh Province
In June 2020, prisoners in Pakistan’s south Sindh province lodged a protest and held four policemen hostage after their seven inmates were tested positive of COVID-19. They demanded that the authorities let them maintain social distancing by allowing them to move out of their barracks. A heavy contingent of police was called in to manage the protest, and the hostages were released after a discussion between police and the prisoners.