(New York, NY) – PEN America is relieved to hear that Turkish musician İbrahim Gökçek, a member of the music collective Grup Yorum, suspended his hunger strike as of Wednesday and is receiving medical treatment. The news comes a day after it was announced that his health had reached a critical level. He started his hunger strike 323 days ago to protest his imprisonment and that of eight other band members in 2019. 

Gökçek decided to suspend his hunger strike after Dr. Sebnem Korur Fincanci, president of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, and a group of lawmakers vouched for Grup Yorum and declared they would fight for the release of the imprisoned band members. Gökçek had turned his hunger strike into a “death fast”—intending to pursue the strike until his own death—in January. Released February 24 because of his health condition, he and fellow group member Helin Bölek were hospitalized against their wishes on March 11, and Bölek died April 3.

Weeks later, on April 24, Mustafa Koçak, not a member of the band but also unjustly imprisoned, died after a 297-day hunger strike. Gökçek had continued his hunger strike, calling for the release of all band members, a fair trial, the right to hold concerts again, and for the cessation of raids of their cultural center. 

“We are relieved to hear İbrahim Gökçek’s decision to break his death fast. But he and other Grup Yorum members should not have to resort to a hunger strike in the first place to be able to share their music, and the Turkish authorities’ grievous attempts to silence their voices is abominable,” said Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “Grup Yorum members have continued to experience repression and harassment at the hands of the Turkish government for over three decades, including arrest, reports of abuse against detained members, banned concerts, and even the detention of their audience members. Their struggle is not over yet. Band members, including Gökçek’s wife Sultan, remain imprisoned, and the government still has not allowed the band to hold a concert. We condemn these ongoing attacks on free expression by the Turkish government, both against Grup Yorum members as well as any artist, writer, or activist who dares to speak out against injustice. Artists should be allowed to live and work without fear, and they should not have to deprive themselves of their life and wellbeing in order to do so.”

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. If you would like to learn more about Grup Yorum, please read ARC’s profile of the band. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC here.