POLITICAL PRISONERS in Northern Ireland
are under a brutal and sustained attack. They are being beaten,
strip-searched and held in solitary confinement. Many of the guards
in Maghaberry prison where they are held are bigots who see Irish
Republicans and Catholics the same way Ku Klux Klan members see
Harry Fitzsimmons' partner has described
one of the beatings:
Harry was dragged from his cell,
battered, bruised, kicked and stamped on his chest by several
screws [guards]. They danced on his chest...He was able to ring
home right afterward to our 16-year old daughter. He was
breathless and could barely talk or breathe. He had no doctor,
and no water. Harry was dragged into SSU (isolation) where he
had his clothes cut off his body. He was handcuffed and chained
to a bed. We've had no word from him since.
The prisoners are locked in their cells 23
hours a day. There is nothing in the cell but a mattress. Prisoners
are given 15 minutes to eat. Sometimes they get no meal at all.
Prisoners have gone up to 36 hours without
eating. The prison administration has destroyed the plumbing in many
of the cells.
The prisoners are forced to urinate and
defecate into buckets. The only place to empty them is out the
windows or under the cell doors. The guards often sweep the waste
that is emptied under the doors back into the cells, creating a
serious risk of disease and infection.
The prisoners are subjected to frequent
humiliating strip searches. One man was searched 31 times in just
six months. Prisoners report that they are searched on the way to
family or legal visits even when they have had no contact with
anyone else. They are also searched when they are being moved from
one part of the prison to another, even though they are under
constant video surveillance. Family members are also being strip
searched when they come for a visit. When someone refuses to be
searched they can be taken to a police station and searched there.
Support for the prisoners is building
throughout Northern Ireland. Hundreds of people have protested
outside the prison and in the streets of cities and towns. The
Concerned Families and Friends of the Maghaberry Prisoners recently
held a packed public meeting in Belfast to launch a campaign for the
Gerard Hodgins, a former hunger striker,
told the participants:
We, as a group, came together and
pledged to hit the streets, to agitate and campaign until the
prisoners in Maghaberry get a proper and humane regime. We are
of all political colors and no political colors; we are equally
and unanimously and maturely committed to assisting the men in
Maghaberry challenge and defeat the inhuman and degrading
conditions being imposed upon them.
The prisoners and their supporters are
demanding an end to the beatings and strip searches, the right to
associate freely within the prison and to organize their own
education and recreation, and, perhaps most important, recognition
as political prisoners.
The prisoners are so-called "dissident
republicans" who are continuing to fight British rule in Ireland.
Socialists do not need to agree with their politics or actions to
support their right to decent and humane treatment.
June 15, 2010