Maghaberry tense after ‘lock down’

A number of republican prisoners were denied food for more than 48 hours as a ‘lock down’ and search took place at Maghaberry Prison late last week and over the weekend.

Prisoners were locked up continuously for over 72 hours as the operation in the County Antrim prison continued. The main focus of the searches was at Roe House, which houses republican prisoners.

The situation began on Wednesday last week, and all domestic and legal visits to the jail were suspended on Thursday. The Crown Prison Service said the move was “due to operational reasons” but refused to given any further details.

Reports suggested that a press blackout had been imposed by the new prison governor Steve Rodford. Rodford was appointed this summer following three damning reports on conditions within the prison.

The Irish Republican Socialist Party said it was holding a white line picket on Tuesday outside Costello House in Belfast to highlight the plight of their prisoners at Maghaberry.

“Irish Republican prisoners are being mistreated and their human rights denied by the prison authorities reinforced by the RUC/PSNI and British Army under the guise of a search,” said IRSP representative Paul Little.

“Regardless of what is found or not found in this search the treatment of the prisoners and their families is intolerable.

“Prisoners have been without food and fresh water since last Wednesday and visiting for families denied or frustrated without warning.

He criticised media reports that visits would go ahead as usual at the weekend. “This was untrue causing hardship and upset to many prisoners families,” he said.

He said his party would be contacting the British government “to demand that this shabby treatment is stopped immediately”.

“Prisoners have rights and these have been woefully ignored by the authorities. We are also concerned that the ‘search’ is merely a cover for the mistreatment of the prisoners, indeed, in the past many prisoners have been assaulted during and after these raids. We call on everyone concerned about the plight of the prisoners in Maghaberry to support the protest.”

A claim by prison authorities that ‘traces of Semtex [explosive] ‘ had been identified and potential bomb parts uncovered (in an area of the prison only accessible to criminal inmates) was seen by republicans as an attempt to justify the mistreatment

Prison officials admitted that tension inside the jail was increasing. “They [prisoners] were using anything they had to bang the doors and screaming to be let out,” one warder said. “It could be a tinderbox next week.”

Governor Rodford would not be drawn on what the motivation was for the lock down. He said: “It is normal for searches to be undertaken within the prison and there are occasions when they will, unfortunately, as in this instance, lead to restrictions in the regime offered to prisoners.

“The safety and security of prisons are of paramount importance and this does require searches, both localised and extensive, to be carried out.”

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© 2009 Irish Republican News