Hunger strike: a protest from the Middle Ages


Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Turull, eight days ago, announced the start of a hunger strike to denounce the "blockade" of the Constitutional Court to European justice. Two days later, Joaquim Forn and Josep Rull joined them. The deputies of JxCat have adopted a method of protest that comes from afar. There are precedents in medieval Ireland, but we also have evidence in Hindu traditions. In the Celtic tradition it was the so-called troscad And it was to say that someone would submit to it justice to settle indefinitely in front of the door of his house without eating, which has generated strong social pressure.

It was not until the early twentieth century, however, that this ritual became a political instrument focused on nonviolent struggle: those who hit a hunger strike seek to appeal to the conscience of the political adversary and denounce a situation of injustice. Although Mahatma Gandhi became the paradigm, it was women who demanded the right to vote before the First World War, the first to use the hunger strike as a tool for doing politics. The peaceful movements have traveled with assiduity, as well as with terrorist organizations.

Suffragette women

Hunger strikes because they are considered political activists

At the beginning of the 20th century, the movement to claim the right to vote for women in the United Kingdom began the first protests. And, in turn, the British government has also started to imprison activists. In 1909 Marion Wallace Dunlop began the first hunger strike in prison. It was released after three days. Wallace Dunlop was followed by others. Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the leaders of the movement, explained the reasons in a letter to him Manchester Guardian : It was not because of his incarceration, but because the government refused to acknowledge that they were imprisoned to support political actions. The idea was that if they were to ensure that the suffragette acts were considered political actions and not crimes, the legitimacy of their request would be recognized. Following the growth in the number of women dying of hunger in prisons and the social impact involved, the government decided to apply forced feeding, which was considered a method of torture and even caused, some deaths In 1913 the British parliament decided to change the policy with the so-called Law on cat and mouse : women were freed from the weaker hunger strike and, when they were recovered, they were again imprisoned. All of this led to an increase in social support for suffragettes.

Gandhi, the paradigm

Up to seventeen hunger strikes from seven days to a month

In the process of independence of India, Mahatma Gandhi has become a point of reference for pacifism and nonviolent struggle. With India under British rule, Gandhi led up to seventeen hunger strikes – from seven days to a month – to signal control of the British Empire over the colony. He emphasized the contradiction of the fact that the metropolis marked the struggle for freedom during the Second World War, at war with Nazi Germany. As leader of the Indian movement he was imprisoned up to four times, in 1922, 1930, 1933 and 1942; He made several fasts and hungry for hunger. One stands out that of 1932 against the decision of the British to separate the electoral system of India from the castes; or another since 1943 against his incarceration without legal charges. Already with independence, he executed the last in 1948 to ask for unity between Hindus and Muslims. Shortly thereafter, he was assassinated by an Indian nationalist.

The IRA and hunger strikes

Bobby Sands and nine other prisoners were killed in British prisons

In 1976 the Labor government decided to end the special category of prisoners of war with whom the prisoners of the Northern Ireland conflict were treated. The provision provoked a wave of protests from the IRA prisoners: first, the blanket strike – the prisoners refused to put the uniforms of the common prisoners; Subsequently, the stroke of hygiene – refused to wash and spread the feces on the walls of the cells; And finally, the 1981 hunger strike directed by Bobby Sands, who was only 27 years old, and which generated a great impact during the mandate of the conservative premier Margaret Thatcher. They asked to be recognized as political prisoners: to be able to dress civilians; the right to free association; the right to a visit, a package and a letter a week, among other requests. During the hunger strike, Sands was elected a deputy in Westminster by the constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, and this has multiplied the international echo of his case. After 66 days without food he ended up dying, along with nine other IRA prisoners. Subsequently, the rest of the prisoners stopped the hunger strike – even if Thatcher did not move – and there was an escalation in the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Previous to the State

From Xirinacs to Jaume Sastre, through the Grapo and the ETA

That of the Catalan prisoners is not the first hunger strike in the state. Lluís Maria Xirinacs has become a point of reference in the Catalan countries. At the end of the Franco regime, and as a gust of the Assembly of Catalonia, he starred in numerous hunger strikes both inside and outside the prison, in solidarity with those entrusted by the Burgos Trial. On December 1, 1973, he announced with a clandestine letter that he stopped feeding to demand the freedom of 113 inmates during a meeting of the Assembly of Catalonia. He was in a preventive prison for the model and was extended for forty days. In the Balearic Islands, Professor Jaume Sastre made the same protest for 41 days in 2014, against the educational policy of the PP.

And in the years "80 and" 90 two Grapo prisoners died following a hunger strike. Juan José Crespo Galende, in 1981, died in hospital after 28 years after three months without food to protest against the conditions of the highest security criminal system in the prison of Herrera de la Mancha (Ciudad Real). In 1990, José Manuel Sevillano Martín died at the age of 30 after participating in a hunger strike with 60 members of the Grapo to protest against the Spanish government's policy of dispersion. The organization killed the doctor who applied them with forced feeding.

Even the prisoners of the ETA resorted to this form of protest. In 2012, several imprisoned people, including Arnaldo Otegi (current Bildu secretary general), began a hunger strike to protest against the freedom of Iosu Uribetxeberria, which had terminal cancer. He ended up being released and died in Arrasate in 2015 due to illness. De Juana Chaos also made several hunger strikes, including one of the sixty days of 2006, against the Parot doctrine – later ruled by European justice – and demanding freedom because he believed he had already fulfilled the sentence.

Latin America

The Cuban dissidents and Venezuelan opposition hit hunger

The Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas has acted in over twenty hunger strikes: the last was in 2016, with 54 days without food to ask the government to end the crackdown. Also the Venezuelan opposition leader, Leopoldo López, began a hunger strike during his imprisonment in 2015, in which he asked, among other things, the freedom of political prisoners and an election date. He left the protest after 30 days.


An imprisoned director, in critical condition after 145 days

Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov recently concluded a hunger strike to demand the freedom of 64 Ukrainians imprisoned in Russia for political crimes. It coincided with the start of the protest with the soccer world cup that this year did in Russia. They ended up applying forced feeding and after 145 days finally decided to leave the strike. He is sentenced to 20 years in prison for alleged terrorist crimes during the annexation of Crimea to the Russian Federation.


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