Protesting republican prisoners in Maghaberry have completed another 48-hour fast, the fourth to be held since prisoners began a campaign for political status on June 19.
It has emerged that since that date, protesting prisoners have also refused to eat prison food, consuming only food items available from other sources.
It is understood that a number of prisoners have suffered significant weight loss and have been seen by the prison doctor.
Protesting prisoners have issued five demands including the right to free association, an end to controlled movement, the right to full-time education, segregated visits, and the right to organise their own wing.
Republican Prisoners Action Group have again demonstrated outside Maghaberry prison to draw attention to the actions inside the jail.
National spokesman for the prisoners group Tony McPhillips said the protest had been escalated.
“It is a step up in the campaign and we are holding our protest in solidarity with them. We have made representations to various people and there has been no movement.
“The urgency of this situation needs to be appreciated at this stage. The prisoners are in good form, although a number have lost weight. The boys are very committed and if they are not going to see some sort of progress it could escalate and develop into a serious crisis.
“It’s not in the interests of us on the outside or those in prison to have this situation escalating. People need to realise this is not a Mickey Mouse situation.”
Republican Sinn Fein has said that 1998 Good Friday Agreement is behind the criminalisation of republican prisoners in Maghaberry.
Speaking at a recent rally in Lurgan, Limerick Republican Des Long said that the current crisis in Maghaberry prison could easily be resolved by the granting of political status.
“It gives the lie to all those who say that there is no Republican resistance to British rule in Ireland,” said Mr. Long.
“In every struggle for national liberation it is recognised that the actions of the resistance arise out of the political situation and in Ireland it is no different.
“The sad fact is that ten men died on hunger strike to establish and enshrine the principle of political status and as a member of the National H-Block Committee at the time I have no hesitation in saying that today the same struggle is being waged by true Republicans who are incarcerated in jail.”
Mr Long also lashed out “former comrades in the Provos” who he claimed were to the forefront of attempts to criminalise the men.
“It is even more disgusting that the Provos continue to condemn the continued resistance to British rule,” he added.
“Calling us ‘micro-groups without support’ may be pleasing their British masters, but the Provos cannot crush the age old aspiration to national self-determination. Just because they have sold out and taken the Queen’s Shilling does not end the struggle for Irish unity.”