A call for freedom
Hundreds of people gathered in Derry’s Bogside on Sunday in what was one of the largest demonstrations held yet in support of the interned political prisoner Marian Price to demand her immediate release.
Marian, a former IRA hunger striker, was following an Easter Commemoration in Derry last year on the order of British Direct Ruler Owen Paterson. British officials justified her continued detention on the basis that a pardon document issued on her behalf was ‘lost’.
She was held at Maghaberry, an all-male prison, in isolation for over ten months. Due to serious concerns about her ailing health she was eventually transferred to Hydebank Woman’s Prison back in February ‘on clinical advice’. But her family and supporters say her mental health has suffered as the result of her continuing detention in isolation.
The event itself was organised by a number of independent activists from Belfast and Derry and had been led by renowned human rights campaigner Monsignor Raymond Murray and a number of Bloody Sunday relatives.
The march departed from Free Derry Corner making its way through the streets to the Guildhall Square.
Amongst the hundreds who gathered into the city centre, the march and rally brought together a number of high-profile human rights activists, former political prisoners as well representatives from various political parties and trade unionists in a show of solidarity not seen since the 1980s prison struggle.
Among those who spoke at the demonstration demanding Marian’s release were her husband Jerry McGlinchey and Nuala Perry who spent time with her in Armagh women’s jail. Former prison chaplain at Armagh women’s jail and human rights campaigner Monsignor Raymond Murray also spoke at the demonstration.
During his speech, Jerry spoke of his wife’s failing health since her incarceration almost a full year ago. He said that Marian “is being held hostage, tortured mentally and denied proper medical care” and that she needed to be set free “before they destroy her ability to function as a human being”.
As the rally closed, Pauline Mellon, one of the independent network of activists who organised the rally, was able to get through to Marian on her phone. Shouts of “Free Marian Price” and cheers were belted around Guildhall Square as Mellon held the phone up at the podium in front of the crowd.
The rally was one event of a host of rallies, pickets, public meetings and more that have taken place around the country, and internationally to raise the case of Marian Price and to demand her immediate release.
Speaking after the event, eirigi’s Breandan Mac Cionnaith said it was evidence that the attempt by the British government to silence dissent by threat of internment of ex-prisoners had failed.
Mr Mac Cionnaith commended the organisers of the rally, as well as the “thousands of people who have raised their voices in many ways to inform the British secretary of state Owen Paterson and Stormont justice minister David Ford that these acts of injustice will not be tolerated.
“The campaign to free Marian Price is not resting on its laurels after today’s rally. More rallies, more meetings, more pickets are being planned and the campaign will continue to build its momentum and increase the pressure on those power until Marian Price is finally set free and returned to her family.”
The rally also heard calls for an end to the practice of brutal strip-searching which Marian and republican prisoners at Maghaberry have faced on a routine basis.
Prison authorities agreed to end strip-searching in August 2010 but later reneged on the deal.
Two independent mediators have been attempting to find a resolution to the dispute while the SDLP and Sinn Féin have also sent delegations to meet the prisoners.
A group acting for up to half of the prisoners at Maghaberry said this week that it believed dialogue was “pointless” and an exercise in “window dressing” after almost two years of stalemate on the issue.