Aysel Tuğluk Must Be Released Immediately: A Life of and Against the Turkish Colonial Prison System

by GPAC member Ozlem Goner

“Among the thousands of Kurdish political prisoners in Turkish colonial prisons, Aysel Tuğluk, who has been in captivity for nearly five years, has been sick and her medical condition requires immediate release from prison, which the Turkish state continues to denyHer friends report that Tuğluk’s medical condition got worse after the racist attacks during her mother’s funeral in Ankara. Tuğluk’s life, her ongoing imprisonment despite her medical condition, her family’s early experience with torture and death in Turkish colonial prisons, as well as her political activism against the gross human rights violations and torture targeting the Kurds in the 1990s, is one illustrative case of how prisons are central to the continuity of Turkish colonial rule on the Kurds and the historicity of the Kurdish political prisoners’ anti-colonial abolitionist struggles. 

***

Given the historical context of the prison system as a tool of oppression of the colonized populations and suppression of their resistance, although pragmatically tempting at times, an overemphasis on “legality” of activities and organizational affiliation of some political prisoners unintendedly reproduces state-defined bounds of “legal” politics and recognizes the criminalization of others who are involved in state-defined “illegal” politics. Instead of separating “legal” vs. “illegal” resistance, or political prisoners “deserving” and “not deserving” freedom, our focus should rather be on the role of the prison system in the criminalization and punishment of anti-systemic movements. In her several attempts to escape the various Turkish prisons throughout the 1980s, Sakine Cansız, expresses the illegitimacy of the “legal” system that was used to colonize Kurdish populations and criminalize their dissent. Although the concept of “abolition” was not used explicitly in her biographic work, a prison abolitionist politics, developed specifically around political captivity, and articulated more broadly around the illegitimacy of a colonial legal system, has been carried out for decades by the Kurdish freedom movement.”  

Read the full article at Jadaliyya.

Prison Resistance Highlights: North America

We continue highlighting instances of prison resistance from around the world on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Attica prison rebellion.

Canada – On January 4, 2021, around 90 prisoners inside the Saskatoon Provincial Correctional Centre and Pine Grove Correctional Centre in Prince Albert began a hunger strike, demanding the resignation of Saskatchewan’s Corrections and Policing Minister Christine Tell for her failure to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in jails. Saskatchewan also has one of the highest incarceration rates of Indigenous people, with around 75 per cent of prisoners being Indigenous. Read the letter by Cory Charles Cardinal, a indigenous prisoner justice advocate incarcerated inside the SPCC who organized the hunger strike.

Mexico – Prisoners inside Prison No. 5 (CERSS) of San Cristóbal de las Casas and No. 10 of Comitan went on hunger strike demanding care to prevent the spread of Covid infections. The hunger strikers were members of groups called The True Voice of Amate and The Voice of Indigenous People in Resistance, which also include Tsotsil prisoners. They denounced that indigenous prisoners did not only suffer constant violations of due process without but were also victims of torture.

USA – In June this year, immigrants detained by ICE at Bergen County Jail, North Jersey went on yet another hunger strike to protest the jail’s conditions and to demand that they be released on parole. In retaliation to this and other acts of protest, ICE has multiple times transferred detainees to other states, far from the detainees’ families and without properly notifying their lawyers. Thanks to the years-long commitment of the movement to end the detention of immigrants, in August this year, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law legislation that prohibits the state from entering into or renewing local and private contracts with ICE. As the ACLU documented, since the beginning of the pandemic, hundreds of detained immigrants have participated in a growing number of hunger strikes nationwide, seeking protection from COVID-19.

USA – In February this year, more than 100 inmates took over two units of the City Justice Center (CJC), a city-run jail in Saint Louis, Missouri, setting fire and breaking windows. It was the third protest over COVID-19 conditions inside the jail since December 2020. The inmates controlled portions of the jail for roughly six hours before law enforcement retook control. One guard was injured, and those involved were transferred out of the jail.

Prison Resistance Highlights From Around the World: Middle East / West Asia

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

Palestine

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. 

From: https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/israel-palestine-prison-breaks-history-successful; Credit: AFP

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. 

Lebanon

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. 

Lebanon’s largest prison Roumieh. Credit EFE.

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.

Day 285

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.

RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) Responds to the Taliban Takeover

Interview with Afghan Women’s Mission, published on RAWA’s website.

RAWA: “In the past 20 years, one of our demands was an end to the US/NATO occupation and even better if they take their Islamic fundamentalists and technocrats with them and let our people decide their own fate. This occupation only resulted in bloodshed, destruction and chaos. They turned our country into the most corrupt, insecure, drug-mafia and dangerous place especially for women.

From the very beginning we could predict such an outcome. On the first days of the US occupation of Afghanistan, RAWA declared on October 11, 2001:

“The continuation of US attacks and the increase in the number of innocent civilian victims not only gives an excuse to the Taliban, but also will cause the empowerment of the fundamentalist forces in the region and even in the world.”

The main reason we were against this occupation was their backing of terrorism under the nice banner of “war on terror”. From the very first days when the Northern Alliance looters and killers were installed back into power in 2002 to the last so-called peace talks, deals and agreements in Doha and release of 5000 terrorists from prisons in 2020/21, it was very obvious that even the withdrawal won’t have a good end.

The Pentagon proves that none of the theory invasion or meddling ended up in safe condition. All imperialist powers invade countries for their own strategic, political and financial interests but through lies and the powerful corporate media try to hide their real motive and agenda.

It is a joke to say values like “women’s rights”, “democracy”, “nation-building” etc. were part of the US/NATO aims in Afghanistan! US was in Afghanistan to turn region into instability and terrorism to encircling the rival powers especially China and Russia and undermining their economies via regional wars. But of course the US government did not want such a disastrous, disgraceful and embarrassing exit that left behind such a commotion that they were forced to send troops again in 48 hours to control the airport and safely evacuate its diplomats and staff.

We believe the US left Afghanistan out of its own weaknesses not defeated by its creatures (Taliban). There are two significant reasons for this withdrawal. 

The main reason is the multifold internal crisis in the US. The signs of the US system decline was seen in the weak response to Covid-19 pandemic, attack on Capitol Hill and the great protests of the US public in the past few years. The policy-makers were forced to withdraw troops to focus on internal burning issues.

The second reason is that the Afghan war was an exceptionally expensive war whose cost has gone into trillions, all taken from taxpayer money. This put such a heavy dent on the US financially that it had to leave Afghanistan.

The war-mongering policies prove that their aim was never to make Afghanistan safer, let alone now when they are leaving. Furthermore, they also knew that the withdrawal would be chaotic yet they still went ahead and did it. Now Afghanistan is in the limelight again due to the Taliban being in power but this has been the situation for the past 20 years and everyday hundreds of our people were killed and our country destroyed, it just was rarely reported in the media.”

Read the full interview here.

GPAC Panel: Global Prison Rebellions & Racial Capitalism, Sept 12, 1PM EDT

The Global Prison Abolitionist Coalition invites you to a panel titled Global Prison Rebellions and Racial Capitalism on September 12, 1PM EDT. The link to a livestream will be published before the event here.

Speakers: Milena Ansari, Juliana Góes, Anthony J. Ratcliff

This panel marks the 50th anniversary of the Attica rebellion. The racism, abuse, and dehumanization of prisoners at Attica prison sparked a heroic uprising on September 9th, 1971. The rebellion, which resulted in a massacre, exposed state violence and white supremacy, and showed that prisoners’ struggles cannot be delinked from the long history of Black national liberation and international anti-imperialism. The panelists will examine the history of prison rebellions in the United States and the Global South namely, Palestine and Brazil. They will discuss prison rebellions as vital sites of resistance against state violence and racial capitalism. These rebellions, then and now, are interconnected, and should be understood as outposts of struggle against neoliberalism, heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, Zionism, and carceral regimes.

Speakers:

Milena Ansari is an International advocacy officer at Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, a Palestinian human rights organization that works to support and advocate on behalf of Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli and Palestinian prisoners by providing free legal aid to prisoners, advocating for them nationally and internationally, and working to end torture and other violations of prisoners’ rights through monitoring, legal procedures and solidarity campaigns.

Juliana Góes is a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology (University of Massachusetts at Amherst), holds a master’s degree in Political Science (Federal University of Minas Gerais) and a B.A. in Political Science (University of Brasília). She has published the articles “Success science and epistemology(ies): situated knowledge.” (Revista Estudos Feministas, 2019) and “Theoretical and analytical approaches on prostitution” (Caderno Espaço Feminino, 2018). Currently, Juliana Góes is working on a book manuscript called “Du Bois on Latin America and the Caribbean: Trans-American Pan-Africanism and Global Sociology” (co-author with Agustin Lao-Montes and Jorge Vasquez, under contract, SUNY Press). Additionally, she studies the connection between decolonial praxis, urban politics, and Black movements in Latin America, her dissertation’s theme. Juliana Góes also works with a wide range of social movements in the Americas. She has collaborated with sex workers organizations, Black urban settlements, and anti-prison movements.

Anthony J. Ratcliff is a tenured Associate Professor in the Department of Pan-African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. He earned a Ph.D. in African American Studies from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 2009. His dissertation analyzed the Pan-African politics of cultural struggle, with particular attention paid to the international dimensions of the Black Arts Movement. As a critical Hip Hop educator and radical historian, Anthony’s scholar-activist research and teaching interests include revolutionary Black arts and politics; Black anti-authoritarian and autonomous movements; Black feminist theory and praxis; decolonial activism and organizing; the impact of capitalism and mass incarceration on Hip Hop cultural production, and the abolition of policing and prisons.

Interview with GPAC: “In Building Global Solidarity, Abolitionists Look for Links between Struggles”

by Nicole Froio for Shadowproof

“From the construction of the new prisons in Egypt, to the isolation of the long imprisoned leader of the Kurdish Workers Party, Abdullan Ōcalan, the situation of political prisoners in India, the imprisoned and disappeared women in Syria, the missing people in Balochistan, and state violence in Venezuela, and many more, our coalition provides a platform for collective discussions and organization.”

Read the full interview here.

Thinking about Abolition & Self-defense

by Nazan Üstündağ

Recent history is increasingly being narrated as one of the rise of the radical right and authoritarianism in most parts of the world. It is also one where international organizations that are supposed to guarantee the universality of human rights are losing power, relevance and credibility. There is however, another story to be told. The last decade has witnessed some of the most crowded insurgencies that have flourished in all continents of the world that have not only protested dictators, exclusionary decision making processes, racism, genocide, neoliberal policies, ecocide and femicide among others; but also experimented with new ways of living, loving and relating. In these insurgencies –latest of which is currently occurring in India against Mondi’s agricultural policies that will leave many self-subsistence peasants devastated– people conjured up the commune and learned that in stateless spaces, hostilities and dualities give way to negotiations and diplomacy- in the Benjaminian sense.

            Nevertheless and despite attracting millions of people, often insurgencies became defeated. In countries like Brazil, Turkey, Syria and Indonesia, the regime survived and increased its authoritarianism while in other places such as Egypt the win was short-lived giving way to other monstrous regimes. On the other hand, in places like Sudan or Tunis, where there have been partial redistributions of power,  the poor, youth and women still remained marginalized. Why is this the case? Obviously, and because it is so obvious we rarely mention it, as long the means of violence and self-defense are not distributed equally, it is impossible for oppositional masses to bring about revolutionary change. This does not mean that I am rooting for a violent conflict. On the contrary, violent conflict does not guarantee the equal distribution of the means of self-defense. Nor is an increased number of deaths desirable for any revolution which must be primarily based on joy and not on mourning and anger. What I am however suggesting is twofold. First at this point any uprising must see abolition as a necessary outcome. And abolition even in its most conservative definition-as the abolition of police, prison and repression- should be a basis on which an international alliance develops.

            Second self-defense must be taken seriously by which I mean that it should become a primary conceptual tool for understanding social and political situations by asking the following questions:  What are the means of defense at any time, how are they distributed, what are the relations of defense and technologies of defense, what kind of means of defense can we generate and for how long would this self defense be sustainable? My take on self-defense relies on the thought of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdish Freedom Movement.

            For Öcalan, any society needs to fulfill the functions of nourishment, reproduction, and self-defense in order to survive. However, during the formation of capitalist modernity, state, capitalist classes, and men confiscated the means of nourishment (i.e., production), reproduction (i.e., care), and defense (i.e., violence) from society, the poor, and women, children, indigenous peoples and the enslaved. Marx, who understood the relevance of enslavement and genocide of indigenous and African peoples in order for capitalism to launch itself through European “investments,” prioritizes the relations over the means of production, Öcalan privileges the relations over the means of violence, where the former redefines the social meaning and effects of the latter. Violence (in capitalism and imperialism) becomes defense (in communism) when its means are equally distributed across society. What defines an ethical and political attitude toward violence in Öcalan’s thought is posed not in terms of how one is situated in relation to the question of violence versus nonviolence but in terms of how one is situated in relation to how oppressed people can defend themselves against those who monopolize violence. In a just and racial, class, gender-equal society, violence must be democratized along with production and reproduction, and their privatization and monopolization must be eliminated.

            Defense is not only a question of police violence. Social relations are constantly in attack and society’s means of organization and self-governance, which are its most valuable defense mechanisms are continuously confiscated so that it becomes dependent on state, capitalism, racism and patriarchy.  The most obvious example is Covid 19. We have seen with Covid 19 that in order for the society to provide for its needs, the people in service and care sectors went out, worked and got sick, women took up the roles of teacher, nurse etc. at home and states closed national borders and applied repressive measures. Essential workers in countries built through racial capitalism were disproportionately vulnerable to lack of quality medical care and resources (vaccine). In a sense people were forced to invest in state, patriarchy and capitalism all the while recognizing the irrationality of each system.

            Currently Covid 19 vaccination is organized in the most irrational way possible with northern countries competing over vaccines and southern countries not receiving any vaccine. Or like in Sudan northern countries are using the vaccine as an object of benevolence to further their influence. Wealth became more concentrated as the impoverished and workers lost jobs and homes and corporations increased profits. Obviously, until the whole world is vaccinated, the virus will keep mutating undermining the efficacy of existing vaccines. We have closed ourselves into a loop where we almost secure the longevity of the pandemic. We have to then ask ourselves: Why are we failing to defend ourselves? What are the means of defense against corona? If it is vaccination, how are the relations of vaccination structured? How can we transform it? What means do we have to transform it? What will the response be? How can we defend ourselves from possible responses by those who benefit from the existing relations? 

Abolition x Communism with our member Joy James

Seminar by UC Davis Humanities Institute with Silvia Federici, Joy James, Charmaine Chua and Kathi Weeks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvPNr1LD0c0

“This event brings together our favorite thinkers of both abolition and communism not as official upper-case ideologies but as lower-case ideas about how to organize social existence. While some would say that each implies the other, tensions between the two traditions have also proliferated. Some interpreters have opposed anti-racism and class analysis, decolonial thought and Marxism, the Global South and Eurocentrism, among other oppositions. Such considerations have taken on ever greater significance amid the ongoing horrors of police violence within the explosion of the carceral state, and the intensifications of capitalist collapse. This discussion provides an opportunity for these scholar-organizers to consider the overlaps and consonances, the necessary and prospective relations between abolition and communism — as well as the potential lacks thereof. We’ll feature statements by each participant, shared discussion, and some time for questions.”

Study: 35 new prisons ordered built in Egypt in last 10 years

Published by Mada Masr

“Egyptian authorities have issued orders to build 35 new prisons in the last ten years, according to a report published by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) on Sunday, including six ordered built within just the past three months.

Lawyer Nasser Amin, a member of the National Council for Human Rights, described the rapid escalation in Egypt’s prison infrastructure as “frightening,” telling Mada Masr that it reflects a ramping up in the rate of people being arrested and detained and raises concerns about the conditions in which detainees are kept and the capacity of monitoring bodies to provide the proper oversight.”

Read the full article here or as a pdf here.

Statement about Abdullah Öcalan’s well-being by International Initiative: Freedom for Ocalan – Peace in Kurdistan

“Mr. Öcalan’s legal team, the Asrın Law Office, published a statement addressing rumors that began to circulate widely yesterday about Abdullah Öcalan’s well-being. We share the concerns of the lawyers, as well as their reasonable and just demand for immediate access to Abdullah Öcalan and their three other clients at the İmralı Island Prison.The lawyers have been blocked from consulting with Abdullah Öcalan since 7 August 2019, and, since 1999, Öcalan has only had one telephone conversation with a family member, on 27 April 2020. Since then, the lawyers have not been able to communicate in any way with their clients, although it is their clients’ constitutional and legal right to consult with their lawyers.”

Read more here: https://freeocalan.org/news/english/open-the-gates-of-imrali-now