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News ::
Prisoners On Strike
19 Aug 2002

Incensed inmates at Northern Ireland’s Maghaberry prison at the end of last week began a strike action to protest against ‘unjust’ conditions in the jail. Prison authorities have confirmed that both republican and loyalist inmates are refusing to comply with prison rules. Maghaberry is a modern high security prison which holds both male and female prisoners. It is the main committal prison in Northern Ireland and from May 2001 began to accommodate immigration detainees The jail currently houses more than 500 prisoners, and operates a controversial integrated system – republican inmates live side-by-side with loyalists. As a result of the strike action the prisoners have been locked in their cells.

Republican Sinn Féin said the strike was as a result of attacks on republican prisoners and a campaign of harassment against their families and visitors. Whereas many believe that treatment of prisoners from the conflict in Northern Ireland have been vastly improved, such is not the case. Strip searches are done two to three times per day. Many prisoners are locked up 22 hours a day. Cells are often raided and torn asunder. Prisoners families, mothers, fathers, children and friends their loved ones are forced to go through the indignity of a sniffer-dog that is led round the visitors by a guard. If the dog sits down near a visitor the visit doesn't go ahead. The handler of the dog has been seen pulling on the lead before the dog has sat down beside a visitor. A visit is always in the hands of the handler and the dog. Republican prisoners are constantly under threat from guards who make clear their loyalist sympathies, and from loyalist prisoners who outnumber the Republicans four to one.

The demands now being made by the Republican prisoners include:
· Segregation from loyalists/criminals.
· Separation of long-term from short-term prisoners.
· Recognition as a grouping and political status.
· An end to the harassment of prisoners' families and visitors.

A spokesperson for Republican Sinn Féin’s POW Department said a republican prisoner was badly injured at the hands of loyalist inmates last Wednesday and many more were warned by prison officers that their lives were under threat. "Conditions within the prison have become unworkable, not only because of the unjust treatment of the prisoners themselves, but of their visitors, their families and their loved ones as well. Added to this is the forced integration policy that endangers prisoners’ lives. "A number of republican POWs have been attacked and have suffered injuries in recent weeks. The situation in the prison is volatile and dangerous for republican POWs. All right-thinking people should show concern for what is happening within the walls of Maghaberry and we in Republican Sinn Féin’s POW department call, as we have always done, for an end to the censorship that allows the injustices of Maghaberry prison to go unchecked."

The Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association (IRPWA) is warning that tensions between republican prisoners and the authorities in Maghaberry jail have reached the boiling point and is demanding that the prison authorities abandon their cavalier attitude before a tragedy occurs. The IRPWA says Republican prisoners are now refusing any co-operation whatsoever with the regime and are being punished in return. As a result, all so-called 'privileges' have been withdrawn and prisoners are now on 'report' awaiting further punishment at the whim of the prison governor.
Sources: Saorise, Ireland’s Own, Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association (IRPWA), Andersontown News, Northern Ireland Prison Service

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