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.

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? 

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

İmralı Peace Delegation 2021 Report

On the occasion of the 22nd anniversary of the abduction of the leader of the Kurdish freedom movement, Abdullah Öcalan, an international peace delegation convened for the purpose of a virtual fact finding mission. The delegation consisted of ten members, including prominent politicians, trade unionists, academics, lawyers, and social movement activists, hailing from a diverse array of countries, including Iceland, India, Italy, the US, and the UK. Together, we sought to continue the tradition of former delegations who have come to Turkey in recent years in support of the reopening of the peace process between the Turkish authorities and the Kurdish leadership, which was abruptly ended in 2015.

Download 2021 İmralı Peace Delegation report here: https://www.peaceinkurdistancampaign.com/report-of-2021-imrali-peace-delegation/

Read more at Peace in Kurdistan Campaign.

Freedom for Öcalan

The Freedom for Öcalan campaign is a UK trade union-backed initiative to secure the release of imprisoned Kurdish political prisoner Abdullah Öcalan.

In 2017 the annual meeting of the TUC voted unanimously for a motion calling for Mr Öcalan’s immediate release and a return to peace talks between Turkey and representatives of the Kurdish people.

Visit here for the campaign website

SOLIDARITY KEEPS US ALIVE!

Campaign by the Kurdish Women’s Movement in Support of Political Prisoners around the World

We propose the following in forming a campaign called, “Solidarity keeps us alive”,

  • To establish meaningful contact between prisoners, especially women, relatives and supporters and to make the situation and voices of the prisoners heard in society.
  • To set up initiatives in all countries to support prisoners and launch petition campaigns against the prison policies of governments.
  • To demand the United Nations, Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), Amnesty International (AI) and similar organizations exert political and diplomatic pressure on the states in question, demanding the immediate release of all political prisoners.

Read the full statement on the Solidarity Keep Us Alive website.

Open letter defending Kurdish women political prisoners

Golrokh Iraee’s letter from inside the Varamin-Qarchak prison; the pressures on #Zeynab Jalalian continue.

Originally published by The Alliance of Middle Eastern and North African Socialists

Zeinab Jalalian is one of the longest serving political prisoner in Iran. After enduring years of incarceration and torture in several prisons and detention centers, she has been transferred from Khoy prison- which is close to her home and family – to Varamin- Qarchak prison, and has been put under pressure by the security forces.

During her long years in prison, Zeynab Jalalian has resisted all the tortures and refused to give in to the dictated confession coerced by security forces.

This unexpected transfer of Zeynab after years of imprisonment, as well as the transfer of another Kurdish political prisoner Sakineh Parvaneh to Varamin-Qarchak prison, has been used as a tool to increase the pressure on them.

After being transferred, with the aim of pressurizing, Sakine Parvaneh was taken to Aminabad psychiatric hospital for several times and has been beaten. This is an obvious violation of human rights.

This vindictive action committed by security organizations shall be condemned, it would be a crime to remain silent about it, and places a big responsibility on the shoulders of the ones who claim to care.

Zeynab Jalalian is not only a person or a prisoner, but is “the lost meaning of real struggle” in the current banal political atmosphere of Iran.

She is a teacher of the alphabet of “freedom struggle” and the embodiment of resistance, who has been forgotten by both friends and enemies.

May the memory of Farzad Kamangar (beloved Kurdish school teacher)  last forever, as we are in the 10th year of his execution. May the path of the freedom fighters continue, who were never deceived by the promise of name and power. Although they have risked their lives, or subjected their bodies to torture and persecution, they have never given up the struggle in exchange for personal interests or greed.

Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee/

May 8, 2020

Varamin-Qarchak prison

Source: https://m.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1173676152974422&id=100009961453914

Transformative justice & anti-carceral politics

The Global Prison Abolition Coalition invites you to a panel on Transformative Justice and anti-carceral politics.

The main driver behind the public’s rejection to abolitionist movements is the fear that there might be no alternative to prisons. This notion widely pushed by the state as well as other institutions that benefit from the carceral system is not true. There are alternative ways to think about justice beyond prisons and state punishment. This panel will address one such alternative: Transformative Justice (TJ).

Transformative Justice entails a political approach that seeks to build a anti-carceral politics while engaging in harm/violence reduction. This panel will unpack different understandings of abolitionism generated from an internationalist & anti-capitalist politics. The speakers will explore the history and significance of TJ in three locations, namely, Bolivia, Rojava in Northern Syria, and the United States.

https://www.facebook.com/events/914916035657763/

Speakers:
Joy James is the F.C. Oakley Professor in Humanities at Williams College, where she teaches in Political Science, Africana Studies, Women and Gender Studies, and American Studies. She is the author of Shadowboxing: Representations of Black Feminist Politics and Resisting State Violence: Radicalism, Gender and Race in U.S. Culture. Her edited books include The New Abolitionists: (Neo)Slave Narratives and Contemporary Prison Writings, Imprisoned Intellectuals, States of Confinement, The Black Feminist Reader, and The Angela Y. Davis Reader.

Nazan Üstündağ received her Ph.D. in 2005 from the sociology department at Indiana University Bloomington. Between 2005 and 2018, she worked as an Assistant Professor at Boğaziçi University, Department of Sociology. Since 2018, she resides in Berlin first as an Academy in Exile and IIE-Scholar Rescue Fund fellow and then as a Gerda Henkel Stiftung Patromonies Program fellow. Her most recent academic articles on state violence and Kurdish Movement appeared in journals South Atlantic Quarterly, History of the Present and Differences. She also worked as columnist in the journal Nokta and the newspaper Özgür Gündem. Üstündağ is a member of Women for Peace and Academics for Peace. Recently, she is finishing a book manuscript with the working title Mother, Politician and Guerilla: The Emergence of A New Political Cosmology in Kurdistan Through Women’s Bodies and Speech.

Raúl Zibechi is a Uruguayan journalist and one of Latin America’s leading political theorists. He is an international analyst for newspapers like La Jornada (Mexico) and Brecha (Uruguay), and a professor at the Multiversidad Franciscana de América Latina. Zibechi has written numerous books on social movements and politics across the Americas, including Territories in Resistance: A Cartography of Latin American Social Movements (AK Press, 2012) and Dispersing Power: Social Movements as Anti-State Forces (AK Press, 2010).

Moderator and Translator: The panel is moderated and translated by Linda Quiquivix who is a popular educator, geographer, and translator based in California. Linda Quiquivix (“Kiki”) is daughter of the undocumented migrant community in California and granddaughter of the Mam (Maya) people of Guatemala and Mexico. She places her university training as a geographer at the service of under-resourced communities in Palestine, Mexico, and the U.S. who seek clean water, land, and tools to build autonomy. In her hometown of Oxnard, California, she is part of a collective of seed savers and farmers who intervene against food insecurity, rebuild respectful ecological relationships to Mother Earth, and collectively organize toward climate resilience. She’s also a writer and researcher, currently working on a book manuscript entitled. Palestine and the Wretched of Empire: Race, Cartography, and the Afterlives of 1492, which traces the uses of cartography and international law in Palestine/Israel to show how movement leaders come to replicate domination when the world of empire becomes the starting point for politics.

KJK’s statement on the murder of George Floyd

Originally Published by ANF News

We unequivocally condemn this blatant racially motivated violence perpetrated by the state and express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of George. This crime is neither the first nor, unfortunately, will be the last of its kind.

Only on February 19 of this year, ten people were murdered in the German city of Hanau in a racist rampage at a cafe.

Not a day passes when Kurdish people are not attacked and murdered for simply being Kurdish. Everywhere, particular communities are declared as enemies and attacked.

We must not dismiss these kinds of atrocities as individual acts.

We have to look at them in the overall context of social conditions. Nationalism and racism must be challenged critically and fought effectively in the context of the nation-state and capitalist realities. Racism and nationalism are an extremely efficient ideological instrument of state, power and domination systems.

The Kurdish people have been struggling with the origins of nationalism and oppression as those affected by it for a long time. As a people who has been fighting for centuries for their own rights and freedoms, we have made efforts to understand the oppression we are facing in order to fight and overcome it.

We investigate whether oppression is natural, whether it has always been so or whether it was created in the course of human history. The answer is clear. Oppression is not natural. It is a human product for the concentration of power and domination.

The main issues of our time, such as climate catastrophe, environmental destruction, war, poverty, displacement, pandemics and many more, have their origin in power and domination. The imbalances of power that result in atrocities are ideologically supported by a certain mentality.

This mentality builds up hierarchies and power relations between humans and nature, between the sexes, between ethnic communities and religions, between skin colour, culture and classes.

How else could a particular group dominate, oppress and exploit other peoples? This cannot be achieved by physical violence alone. Undoubtedly, physical violence plays an essential role, but without a mentality that classifies some as subjects and others as objects, this form of millennia-old domination, cannot be maintained.

In this way, hierarchies and power relations emerge in which the rulers — be they men, whites, rich or other “privileged” sections — see it as their natural right to abuse, exploit and murder the “unprivileged.”

The murder of George Floyd should also be seen as part of a war that a state is waging against society. Especially by tightening security measures and extending the powers of security forces, unwelcome citizens are even more at risk. The more people begin to challenge the system, the more state violence against them increases. According to press releases in 2019, 1,099 people were killed by security forces in the USA alone.

While the areas of self-determined life are becoming increasingly restricted, the hegemony of the state is increased in all areas.

Today, the state claims the monopoly on violence for itself, while legitimate self-defense is labeled as terrorism.

The nation-state as a pillar of capitalism has contributed on the one hand to the homogenization of different local and cultural identities and social communities within state borders. On the other hand, nationalism has stirred up and orchestrated hostility amongst ethnic communities against each other.

Humanity experienced the inhuman and destructive extent nationalism can have in the two world wars.

After World War I, for example, Kurdistan was divided among four nation-states without guaranteeing the rights and even mere existence of the Kurdish people and many other peoples.

Our identity was denied, everything Kurdish was declared as barbaric and backwards.

We have long been subjected to assimilation policies, to integrate our culture, language and identify to Turkishness, Arabness or Persianness. Nation-states require a violent enforcement of a homogeneous ethnic identity to operate.

Oppression, power and domination are not natural. Therefore the state system is not natural either, rather an instrument of power of the ruling class. It is a product of human arrangement with origins in the subjugation of women. The first oppressed nation, the first oppressed class are women. It is therefore not surprising that despite countless (both anti-colonial-national and class-related) struggles for freedom and equality, these systems of oppression could not be overcome. Since no revolutionary movement has yet put women’s liberation at the heart of their struggle, they could not attack the core of the oppressive system.

Today we know that without ending social sexism, the swamp of hierarchy, power and oppression cannot be dried up. It is no coincidence that the attacks against women have exploded worldwide in parallel with the rise of nationalism, oppression and fascism.

While racially motivated attacks are on the rise worldwide and governing political systems are shifting to the right, state-patriarchal behavior through certain individuals is being displayed all the more blatantly.

Heads of state threaten women with rape and murder, restrict the hard-won rights of women and try to force women out of public life once again.

It is time to declare a meaningful war on this oppressive system in its entirety. This means that we have to understand and lead the fight against white supremacy, nationalism, sexism and capitalism as one.

We have to stand-up for an alternative system which values differences as the richness of society working towards a mosaic-like cohesion of diversity to unite our struggles.

Simply, people should not be regarded as inferior just because of their skin color, gender, ethnic and religious identity. Let’s build our free life beyond the state, power and hierarchy through democratic structures of self-organization and self-determination.