A US university student who was visiting a republican penpal in Hydebank jail has been arrested by the PSNI.
Zach Gevelinger was arrested after visiting Christine Connor who is on remand at the women’s prison.
Mr Gevelinger, from Wisconsin, arrived in Dublin last Wednesday before travelling north. It had been his first meeting with the Belfast woman, who he met through a social networking website, and had arranged a prison visit with the help of Ms Connor’s mother.
He arrived in Dublin last Wednesday before travelling north. He made contact with Ms Connor’s mother who arranged a prison visit with her daughter for Saturday afternoon.
However, afterwards Mr Gevelinger was arrested in the car park of Hydebank detention centre, on the outskirts of south Belfast and taken to the Antrim interrogation centre for questioning. Under special legislation, he has now been interrogated for six days.
The PSNI also searched a room at Benedict’s Hotel in south Belfast where he had been staying and seized his belongings, which included computer equipment.
It is thought the move may be an attempt by British forces in the north of Ireland to discourage US citizens from contacting or supporting republican prisoners.
Independent Lisburn councillor Angela Nelson has been in contact with the consulate on Mr Gevelinger’s behalf.
“This is a young man who was visiting Ireland as a tourist. His only alleged crime appears to be being online friends with someone who is perceived to be a republican,” she said.
“He has now been held since Saturday using draconian anti-terrorist legislation in a strange country without any family support. He should be released immediately.”
Ms Nelson had previously highlighted other strange police activity surrounding the arrest of Ms Connor, who was questioned for seven days and is still being held without trial on charges relating to a pipe bomb attack.
“She is a totally innocent young woman held on allegations which are ludicrous and gives the distinct sense of a careful set up by the spooks that are operating within our communities,” she said.
“At the same time a young man from Shrewsbury in England was also arrested and has since been charged with ‘terrorist offences’, whilst he does not appear at the court at the same time as Christine he is being associated with her.
“Christine does not know this young man at all.”
She said Ms Connor was arrested with nothing in her possession and after lengthy searches of her home and other family members homes nothing was found.
“The police say they can connect her to these charges, and we as republicans have been down this road before, when allegations are made with nothing to substantiate them yet the person can spend a long time in ‘administrative detention’ until the case comes to trial.”
She also expressed concern at the treatment to which she and her cellmate, Sharon Rafferty, are being treated, including a 16 hour-a-day lockup without education facilities.
“They conduct themselves within the prison as strong republicans who will not be treated as criminals,” she said.
“These two republican women are supported by family and close friends but we as republicans collectively need to be more supportive and that can be done in a very simple way, send them both a letter or a card, let them know we have not forgot about them. If you live close to their families call and offer support or even inquire about their welfare.
“Today we had wonderful weather, the sun was shining and as I was driving up the road young women were sitting in “Beer Gardens” having a cold drink basking in the sunshine....
“Today [July 7] Christine Connor had her birthday. She is 28 years of age and has been locked up for 16 hours today in a prison cell because she is a republican. All I am asking you to do at this stage is to write to Christine and Sharon or send a card to show them we care.”
* The address is: Hydebank Prison, Hydebank Wood, Hospital Road, Belfast, BT8 8NA