Republican prisoners at Maghaberry Prison are now refusing meals in an increasing protest for the recognition of political status.

Starting on Monday, prisoners on the segregated wing have refused meals in their cells. The prisoners and their supporters have stressed that this action is not a hunger strike.

The Republican Prisoners Action Group, which speaks for those involved, said prisoners on the segregated wing were being denied access to canteen facilities and were forced to eat meals in their cells in close proximity to the toilet.

The group said this was “a practical problem” resulting from the policy of controlled movement enforced on the segregated landing. The policy prevents any more than three prisoners being allowed out of their cells at any one time.

“The RPAG consider that the policy of controlled movement is excessively restrictive and POWs will not tolerate these conditions any longer.

“The Prison Protest began on Monday 19th June 2006 and will continue until the five demands outlined by the POWs are addressed”.

The five demands, as outlined by the RPAG, are: free association; end to controlled movement; right to full time education; separate visiting facility; right to organise our own landings.

Prisoners in Portlaoise prison in the Irish midlands are to begin a 24-hour fast on Wednesday in solidarity with their comrades in the County Antrim jail. They have indicated that this will continue each week for the foreseeable future in support of the fight to win political status.

Republican Sinn Féin is supporting the protest.

“In this 25th anniversary year of the H-Block hunger strike, the British government must not be allowed to go back down the road of attempting to criminalise Republicans while they treat them in an inhumane manner,” a statement from the group said.

“In addition to 21 and 23 hour lock-up on alternate days there are constant strip searches. Prisoners are made to choose between daily exercise and education. They are denied facilities to enable them to organise their own education.

“The prisoners seek the right to free association on their own landings and an end to “controlled movement”. They are abused by the use of sniffer dogs to harass their visitors and themselves.

“Safe and secure visits are denied, Family visitors are exposed to loyalist visitors and the prisoners themselves are exposed to loyalists while going to and from legal visits.

“Since Republican prisoners secured separation from loyalist and ordinary prisoners some years ago, they have been targeted for special reduced conditions. The mistakes of the past must not be repeated in 2006.”

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© 2006 Irish Republican News