Something significant has happened in Wales this week. Away from the clamour of Brexit and the European elections, for many weeks now a quiet struggle has been unfolding in the Kurdish community centre in Newport, where a young refugee is on indefinite hunger strike in protest at the treatment of a Kurdish leader by the Turkish authorities.
The name of the refugee is Imam Sis, and I am proud to call him a friend. At 32, he is only a year older than me. But he’s been on this hunger strike for 139 days and is now very close to death.
Imam is one of hundreds of people over the world who are on hunger strike in protest at the inhuman treatment of the Kurdish leader Öcalan who has been held in solitary confinement since 1999 and has been refused access by legal representatives. At the end of last year, my friend, Imam, was inspired to take part in the hunger strike by a Turkish MP, Leyla Guven, who has now been without food for 177 consecutive days. Since December, Imam has followed her example and has survived on only drinks and vitamin supplements.
Throughout his hunger strike, I and others close to him have been struck by his ardour for life. He is tenacious, thoughtful, and is one of those people who smiles with their entire face. He has been at pains to explain that he is not taking this drastic action because he wants to die, but rather because he wants to celebrate life, and to draw attention to the degrading treatment of a man he so admires. Whatever the politics of the situation, it is impossible not to be inspired by Imam’s story. His demands are reasonable: they centre on human rights and basic human dignity. I challenge anyone to find a case against what he is calling for.
A few weeks ago, in March, our Senedd became the first parliament in the world to express its solidarity with Imam’s struggle for justice, when a Plaid Cymru motion was passed. The case may seem, at first, to be removed from Wales – but it centres on a Welsh citizen, and an international struggle for justice being played out on Welsh streets. I was immensely proud of my parliament that day, for the stand we took on this hugely important issue.
On Thursday this week, I was told that Imam’s condition had become critical, and that he had stopped receiving visitors.
I knew that we had to act quickly, and so I asked the Welsh government to involve the UK Foreign Office, requesting that they make an official representation on his behalf. I had written the letter to the Welsh International Affairs Minister more in hope than expectation, since the ministry is a new one and, up until now, had seemed reluctant to make foreign interventions. I was, however, delighted to hear that, that same day, a letter was drafted to Jeremy Hunt, and the letter was sent to him the following morning.
In politics, so much of what we do comes down to partisan point-scoring. On this occasion, I can find nothing but praise for the speed at which the Welsh government has acted.
Were Jeremy Hunt to intervene in this case personally, I have reason to believe that this would bring an end to Imam’s hunger strike. It is beyond important that he does so – this is truly a matter of life and death.
Every so often, an issue emerges that makes us confront why we came into politics, and makes us question what kind of a nation we want to be. This week, Wales has determined that it will not stand by and ignore this catastrophic injustice to continue. All eyes will now be on the UK Foreign Office: if they act quickly, more than one life could be saved.
Imam is telling his story to the world, and the world is starting to listen. I implore Jeremy Hunt to help us amplify his voice.
Delyth Jewell is Assembly Member for the South Wales East list and shadow international affairs minister