Imprisoned Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan has called for an end to hunger strikes by thousands of jailed supporters in Turkey protesting the conditions of his detention, his lawyers said on Sunday.
“I expect the action to come to an end in light of the broad statements to be made by my two lawyers,” Ocalan said in a message read by his lawyer Nevroz Uysal during a press conference in Istanbul.
Ocalan, the co-founder of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), was allowed to see his lawyers this month for the first time in eight years.
About 3,000 Kurdish prisoners have been holding hunger strikes since November to protest against Ocalan’s isolation and demand improved conditions for him, and eight have killed themselves over the issue, according to the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party.
Earlier this month, Nevroz Uysal, one of Ocalan’s lawyers, said the imprisoned leader wanted the hunger strikers to limit their protests.
“We respect the resistance of our friends inside and outside prisons but want them not to carry this to a dimension that will threaten their health or result in death,” Uysal quoted Ocalan as saying.
Turkey captured Ocalan, then public enemy number one, in February 1999 and imprisoned him on the heavily fortified island of Imrali off Istanbul where he has been kept for 20 years.
The PKK is blacklisted as a “terror” group by Ankara, NATO, the US, the United Kingdom and other Western allies. The conflict has claimed more than 40,000 lives since 1984.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has hardened his rhetoric towards Kurdish rebels since the last ceasefire broke down in 2015, reducing the odds of a political solution to the long-running conflict.
Ocalan’s brother, Mehmet, was permitted to visit him in prison in January for the first time since 2016.
Ocalan had been sentenced to death for treason after his capture by Turkish agents in Kenya, but this was commuted to life imprisonment when Turkey abolished capital punishment in 2002 at a time when it appeared close to securing membership of the European Union.