The decision to go on a hunger strike is not a course of action that is embarked upon lightly. Not because one needs special physical preparation, but because it requires a great deal of reflection to resolve the doubts it raises. Not only because of the effects on your body but, above all, for the strain it has on your family and friends, on the people who love you.
This explains why the decision to go on a hunger strike can only ever be a personal one, strictly personal. It is a supreme exercise in sovereignty. The decision to start a hunger strike can in no way be seen as more courageous than the decision not to start one. It must be understood from the beginning that this type of protest is not an attempt to appear before public opinion as the strongest, the bravest, the most daring of the lot. A hunger strike is not a demonstration of anything and much less a form of competition with anyone, not even with oneself.
Undoubtedly, it is an act of conscience and personal sovereignty, as Lluís Maria Xirinachs was fond of saying. But equally remarkable is the exercise in personal awareness and sovereignty that leads one not to start a hunger strike after reflecting on a host of factors which affect us all as individuals. I myself, at other times, have decided against taking this same course of action during personal circumstances which are different to those which I now find myself in.
It is certainly an extreme act of protest against a blatant case of injustice which has not been resolved and which has been going on for a long time. The strength of a hunger strike lies in the fact that it openly appeals to the feelings that each individual possesses, even those who commit injustices, and that it is closely tied to the values and principles of nonviolence.
More than any other nonviolent action, hunger strikes have the power to appeal to people’s consciences because they speak directly to their hearts. It is very difficult for a person who knows they are being spoken to directly by a hunger strike not to feel it.
Nonviolence directs its action straight to the hearts of those who commit injustice. And it does so with the conviction that sooner or later everyone may find themselves in the position to abandon injustice, and even to put an end to the violence which they have been hiding behind for so long. The basic principle of nonviolence is to treat one’s adversary, even one’s oppressor, as first and foremost a human being. With the same potential as we have to feel excitement, to feel compassion, to feel respect, to reject injustice and to feel for the suffering of others. It is not always easy, and nonviolence is not always capable of awakening people’s conscience or feelings. This is true. But neither is violence always capable of winning, though it is always capable of destroying, often causing irreparable damage.
In this case our hunger strike is a direct appeal to the twelve Constitutional Court judges. They are applying a decision that is causing us irreparable harm. By agreeing to see all our appeals while failing to rule on any of them, they are depriving us of our right to take our case to the European Court of Human Rights. A hunger strike is the last resort available to us to demand fair and just treatment. We have been waiting for over a year for some appeals to be heard, when we shouldn’t have waited more than 30 days. This is the time-limit, according to the legislation and the Constitutional Court’s own rulings, for resolving appeals on judicial decisions regarding prison on remand.
When one is in jail, it is not possible to carry out other nonviolent political actions to expose instances of grave injustice. If we had others, believe me, we would not have started a hunger strike. Because a hunger strike is not a fast. It is important that everyone understands the difference. Fasting is for a limited period and, aside from those who do it for health reasons or as part of their spiritual practice, it is usually performed as an act of solidarity and empathy towards others or to support just causes. A hunger strike, on the other hand, has no preset end-by date and is openly associated with a political protest or demand, with the intention of shaking people’s consciences.
Those who associate a hunger strike with the willing destruction of one's own body and of life itself are mistaken.If there is one thing that defines the tradition of nonviolence (of which Gandhi is a shining example), it is its devotion to and defence of life; of both your opponents and your own. No one wishes to live and to be free as much as those who are behind bars. We love life and freedom so much that we are taking extreme measures, going on a hunger strike, to denounce a truly unjust situation, since we are aware that the longer we are prevented from taking our case to the European Court of Human Rights, the longer the recovery of our freedom will be delayed. And life in prison can’t be called living. Even less so if one has been sent to prison unjustly.