Member of Turkish band dies on 288th day of hunger strike

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A member of a popular folk music group that is banned in Turkey has died on the 288th day of a hunger strike protesting the government’s treatment of the band, according to a post on the group’s Twitter account.

Grup Yorum said singer Helin Bolek died Friday at a home in Istanbul where she had been staging the hunger strike to force the government to reverse its treatment of the band and its members. She was 28.

Grup Yorum, known for its protest songs, is a folk collective with rotating band members. It has been banned from performing since 2016 while some band members have been jailed.

The government accuses Grup Yorum of links to the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, or DHKP/C. The militant group is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

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Bolek and fellow band member, Ibrahim Gokcek, had embarked on a the hunger strike while in prison to press the government to lift the ban and free detained band members. They were released in November.

The two were demanding that Grup Yorum be allowed to resume concerts, that jailed band members be released and that lawsuits against the group be dropped. Two Grup Yorum band members, including Gokcek’s wife, remain in prison.

Bolek and Gokcek were forcibly hospitalized on March 11 but discharged a week later after they refused treatment, the Ankara-based Human Rights Association, or IHD, said.

IHD said a delegation of human rights activists met with Turkey’s deputy interior minister last month to seek a solution that would end the hunger strike. The government refused to “assess” the demands until the protest was called off, the association said.

Zulfu Livanelli, a popular Turkish singer and songwriter who sang with Grup Yorum during one of their 2012 concerts, expressed sadness over Bolek’s death on Twitter, saying “ the struggle to prevent hunger strikes from not resulting in death has unfortunately failed.”

Hunger strikers in Turkey traditionally refuse food but consume liquids that prolong their protests.

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