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Turkish Hunger Strikes Stem From Complaints Over Prison Conditions

Turkish riot police stormed the homes of hunger strikers in an Istanbul neighborhood to forcibly take them to the hospital for treatment. Local media reports say at least four-people died, though details remain sketchy.

Police entered Istanbul's Kucukarmutlu district with armored personnel carriers and earth-moving equipment.

Eye-witnesses quoted by Turkish television said police used tear gas and fired in the air as they moved in on the houses, where hunger strikers and their supporters have been protesting for a year against new high-security prisons. The strikes are being carried out by hundreds of inmates in jails across Turkey as well.

The hunger strikers say prisoners are vulnerable to abuse by prison wardens in the new cells, which house a maximum of three prisoners each.

But the government has ruled out transferring prisoners back to larger, dormitory-style wards, which house up to 100 inmates each. Turkish authorities say the wards had become indoctrination and training centers for outlawed militant groups.

At least 41 people have died in the course of the protest over the past year.

In December, Turkish security forces staged raids on 21 prisons across Turkey to forcibly end the strikes and to hospitalize those strikers most at physical risk. At least 30 inmates died in those raids, triggering a storm of protest from human-rights groups.

Turkey's human-rights record is cited by European governments as one of the main reasons why the European Union has not yet accepted Turkey as a full member.