Solidarity camp at Maghaberry gates

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Protests in support of hunger striking prisoners are due to take place in Belfast and outside Maghaberry Prison on Saturday, where a solidarity camp is to be established.

Some fifty republican prisoners at the County Antrim jail have been refusing food for over a week in support of Palestinian prisoner, Dr Issam Hijjawi, who remains isolated in a separate section.

The Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association (IRPWA) said a 24 hour solidarity fast will take place at a camp established at the gates in support of hunger-striking prisoners at Maghaberry and at Portlaoise in the Irish midlands.

This week, three female republican prisoners being held at Hydebank Women’s Prison have also joined in the two-week hunger strike, as have non-IRPWA prisoners associated with Cabhair and Cogús and unaligned prisoners.

A number of Saoradh, IRPWA and Éistigí activists and other republicans across Ireland undertook a 24 hour solidarity fast earlier this week, and there was also a protest at BBC offices in Derry in response to their virtual blackout of the campaign.

A very broad spectrum of republican organisations and others are set to lend their support and join with protestors on Saturday. They will follow a white-line picket at the Kennedy Centre in West Belfast at 2pm on Saturday which, upon completion, will see a cavalcade make its way to the gates of Maghaberry for a mass protest at 4pm.

The Six County Justice Minister Naomi Long has said her administration is aware of the planned protest.

A spokesman for the Irish Republican Prisoners’ Welfare Association (IRPWA) said the campaign was triggered by the conditions in which Dr Hijjawi was being held in dire conditions in Foyle House, a separate area of the prison. They have dismissed suggestions by the authorities that the coronavirus motivated the isolation of Dr Hijjawi, pointing to the irregular manner in which he was moved to Foyle House.

They have also criticised the manner in which all republicans remanded since March have been subjected to forced strip searches when being “processed” at the beginning of their incarceration. One new remand prisoner, Gavin McKenna, a member of the leadership of Republican Sinn Fein, was strip-searched and sexually assaulted by prison screws this week while being held in isolation at Maghaberry.

Families of prisoners have said they are concerned at the stonewalling of the prison authorities when they attempted to inquire about the situation.

“The regime palmed off the families with a refusal to answer questions. The families are genuinely concerned and need answers,” the IRPWA said.

A motion in support of the families, calling on the authorities to provide regular updates on the situation, was passed by Derry City and Strabane District Council.

In a statement, the striking prisoners rejected comments made by Ms Long that they have been secretly taking food.

“The occupation’s so called “justice minister” continues to peddle the false sinister narrative that tuck shop facilities are being utilised by over 50 Republican Prisoners who are on hunger strike and only ingesting water.

“This is the same sinister lies that was said about Terrence MacSwiney right up to Bobby Sands. Nothing changes as far as the illegal occupation is concerned.

“Rest assured that the Republican Prisoners in the occupations gaols and in their neo-colonial counterparts in the Twenty Six County Free State, are not eating food of any sort. The only thing passing our lips is water and the medical reports from the occupations medical staff will verify this as the so called “justice minister” already knows.

“This will continue until Anti Imperialist Prisoner, Dr Issam Hijjawi, is returned to Roe House with his comrades”.

Prisoners in Maghaberry are said to be in good spirits but have lost various amounts of weight with some prisoners losing over 14 pounds [6.4kg], according to the IRPWA.

Doctors at Portlaoise, where republican prisoners are also engaged in a solidarity hunger strike, have raised serious concerns about a number of the men’s well being and have taken details of next of kin. Banners of support have been hung from the wires on the three republican landings of Portlaoise prison.

“The responsibility for the current situation, one that sees over 50 Irish Republican POWs in various jails taking part in a two week hunger strike and an upcoming 24 hour protest at Maghaberry Gaol on Saturday, rests with the MI5-directed jail administration and Long’s so called “Department of Justice”, no one else,” the IRPWA said.

“The prisoners across all jails continue to be grateful for all the support shown at home and by international comrades. Victory to the Republican Prisoners!”

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