A Sinn Fein Stormont delegation visited Maghaberry on Friday as anger mounts at the conditions inside the jail.
“The situation in Maghaberry is giving cause for serious concern,” said party president Gerry Adams. He said he had spoken to the Six-County ‘Minister of Justice’ David Ford on the matter.
“Prisoners have rights which must be protected,” Mr Adams said. “They are entitled to be treated with respect and dignity.” He also invited relatives of prisoners and their support organisations to meet with the party to discuss the issue.
In a statement, the 32 County Sovereignty Committee said the treatment of the prisoners was “nothing short of disgusting and inhumane.” It said the abusive treatment by prison employees had “escalated drastically” in the past few weeks.
“Recently Republicans have been informed that they will receive no showering facilities, no visits, no phone calls and no exercise time, this is clearly in breach of their human rights. Another issue that seems to be part of the screws plan of action is withholding food from the men for days on end, another very serious breach of human rights.
“Strip searches have become another weapon of choice for Maghaberry screws it is being used in such a fashion as to humiliate the Republicans under their control. It was also being used extensively against family and friends visiting the gaol. Strip searches were being carried out a highly inappropriate number of times, even when men were walking from wing to wing they were being intermittently searched when they had no possibility to have received contraband items. Due to the wide spread use of this tactic Republicans have refused to strip down past their boxer shorts resulting in numerous beatings.
“Numerous men are being sent to the SSU (Special Supervision Unit), this was previously called the Punishment Unit but was later renamed. The understanding of these actions by Republicans is that this is just another excuse to try and separate Republicans and break their morale.
“Most personal belongings have been stripped from the men’s cells, leaving them with nothing but a mattress and the clothes they stand in. When Republicans saw a comrade receiving a severe beating by a number of balaclava clad screws, in protest and in the hope of stopping the vicious assault they wrecked their cells, including their toilets and sinks, this obviously flooded their rooms, where they had to stay for the duration of the night with a six inch puddle of water surrounding them. When the screws did eventually move the prisoners to dry cells while they clear the rooms, they soaked the PoW’s mattresses and moved them back in.
“With no toilet facilities in their cells the PoWs are expected to use buckets to defecate and urinate, in attempts to get rid of this human waste, they try have to throw what they can out windows and pour urine onto the landing which is often swept back in around them, this is fertile ground for various harmful bacteria and infections, which, as summer approaches, may result in an epidemic outbreak, in correlations with the lack of nutrition, resulting in weakened immune systems, this poses a serious threat to the prisoners’ safety. Another incident reported to people before the communications shut down, was that food that was getting through to the POW’s was being tampered with, leaving numerous Republicans violently ill, the tampered food and no drinking water has compounded this health issue.
“Not only is this a vicious and underhand campaign against legitimate political prisoners it is obviously a great health risk to the men suffering this reality. To compile the health risk PoW’s that are on long term medication, have been refused their medicine for the past number of weeks, suffering in a regression of their medical wellbeing.
“The media have been absolutely deafening in their silence about this torturous campaign waged against our incarcerated Republicans comrades. The only reporting of this issue is coming from the Republican groups supporting these men and from a few humanitarian organisations. If the media are refusing to document and shame the system for its vile actions, it is up to us as Republicans to take to the street to protest, poster and challenge this regime, we owe our comrades that much. They can ignore one of us, but they cannot ignore all of us.”
On Sunday, hundreds attended a protest at Maghaberry jail.
The intention of the organisers of the rally was to make as much noise as possible so as the prisoners could hear the growing support for them. To this end, the demonstrators chanted “Victory to the Pows” at the gates of the jail, beat drums and banged bin lids.
Another is planned for Saturday June 5th.
Meanwhile, the PoW department of Republican Sinn Fein published the following communication it received from prisoners in Maghaberry regarding the events of last week in which a prisoner was attacked by warders.
“On Thursday May 6 the screws came to the cell doors of the PoWs and told them that they were not getting any exercise, phone calls or showers.
“A war of words developed and as a result an alarm was hit, this alarm is to call in the search team. At this time members of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) were on the Republican wings and the search team did not enter.
“Sometime later the search team returned and entered the cell of Harry Fitzsimmons. He put up a struggle and he was tied up; his hands cuffed behind his back and was removed to the punishment unit. While in this unit he was told to strip and he refused, he was then handcuffed to the bed and his clothes were cut of his body. He is still being held in the punishment unit. (It may also be the case that Harry Fitzsimmons is currently on a dirty protest)
“Another prisoner is currently being held in the PU (punishment unit), a man by the name of Gary Jones. He was placed in the PU after being told that he is under death threat. All bodies concerned have insisted that no such threat exists and that once again the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), the Prison Officers Association (POA) and the prison service are placing bogus threats on Republican prisoners in order to isolate them and carry out intimidation techniques whilst held in isolation.
“The Republican prisoners as a result of the above factors wrecked their cells on Thursday night (May 6). They have no toilet, no sink and no furniture. The screws did not move in until Friday (leaving the men in six inches of water and filth overnight) and removed the men to dry cells in order to clean the damaged ones.
“During this clean up a number of men’s bedding was destroyed by the screws spilling water into them. A number of items were destroyed and men’s clothes were also soaked with water.
“The men have been issued with pots and they are refusing to use them. They are soiling into bags and throwing them out the following morning and are urinating into cartons and spilling them under the doors at night. A number of men have been charged with this spilling of material.
“The Republican prisoners are still refusing to undergo strip searches and as a result they are being charged and refused visits. A list of charges are now against each man and the charges are continuing to grow.
“Even after such adversary the Volunteers held a commemoration at their doors on May 5 to remember the anniversary of a former POW Bobby Sands. The men read aloud poems and songs and remembered with pride the Volunteers who walked the same road before them.”