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hunger strike

hunger strike, refusal to eat as a protest against existing conditions. Although most often used by prisoners, others have also employed it. For example, Mohandas Gandhi in India and Cesar Chavez in California fasted as religious penance during otherwise political or economic disputes. An ancient device, the hunger strike was revived in England in the early 20th cent. by militant woman suffragists and became the accepted technique of those sentenced for suffragist activities. The passage of the so-called Cat-and-Mouse Act in 1913, by which the prisoners in ill health due to fasting could be temporarily discharged, ended the forced feeding to which the authorities had resorted. The Franchise Act of 1918 ended the suffragist hunger strikes in England. The hunger strike was used by Irish nationalists in 1912 and again later on. Hunger strikes were used by members of Sinn Féin in 1920, and Terence MacSwiney, lord mayor of Cork, died in a London prison after a fast of 74 days. Thereafter, hunger striking was forbidden by the Sinn Féin. It was used again in the 1970s and 1980s by imprisoned members of the Irish Republican Army. Hunger striking was used between 1917 and 1919 by American woman suffragists and also by conscientious objectors imprisoned in the United States. During the Vietnam War, the Roman Catholic priests Daniel and Philip Berrigan used the hunger strike in 1969 at Danbury Prison, Conn., where they had been imprisoned for destroying draft records. In 1970 inmates in California's Soledad Prison used it on a massive scale to protest prison conditions. and in 2000–2001 several hundred leftist inmates in Turkish prisons and others in Turkey used "death fasts" to protest prison conditions. Alleged Taliban and Al Qaeda members held at Guantánamo Bay by the United States since 2002 have also used hunger strikes to protest their imprisonment there.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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