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This Is What It Feels Like to Be on UK's Longest Hunger Strike

The next desperate battle for the Kurds: their own bodies

by Joe Hill
May 16 2019, 5:13pm

NEWPORT, Wales — Imam Sis has been on hunger strike since December 17. He says he’s just one of 7,000 strikers across Europe and Turkey taking such measures on behalf of the Kurdish cause. Their first step: Force Turkey to allow friends and lawyers to visit Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned founder of the PKK.

For many Kurds, Ocalan’s 20-year imprisonment symbolizes their fight for liberation, and how they’ve been wronged by the Turkish government. But Turkey, the U.S., the EU and other Western nations see it differently and consider the PKK a terrorist organization, even after many of its members fought under a different name on the frontlines of the U.S.-led war against ISIS.

“I feel like a slave”, Sis said, “We have a very rich culture. But not recognition. I do not accept this. I will not accept this.”

Hunger strikes have been a protest tactic for over 100 years. Mahatma Gandhi famously fasted 17 times throughout his bid to liberate India from colonial rule. In Northern Ireland, Bobby Sands, of the Irish paramilitary group the IRA, died hunger striking — but his death inspired a wave of protests in solidarity with the IRA’s fight against British rule.

Sis believes his hunger strike has already been successful. Last week, Theresa May, when asked about the strike, called it “a big issue.” And on Thursday, Turkey announced that they would break Ocalan’s isolation and allow his lawyers to visit him.

But they’ve only had one meeting in seven years and 810 appeals. It’s unclear if this recent movement will be enough for Sis to end his hunger strike.

While his friends support the cause, some of them see the protest differently. “Every single day is a new challenge for him, and for us,” said Welat Raven, a friend. “Even today, in the morning when I see him, I was going to say, today you have the whole day to fight. How do you feel? But you can’t say this because you don’t want to make him lose even one calorie.”

VICE News spent the day with Sis, Britain’s longest hunger striker, to see how his strike affects him and those who care about him.

This segment originally aired May 9, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.