Solidarity hunger strike at Maghaberry

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The Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association have said they are gravely concerned at the “medieval” behaviour of the Maghaberry prison regime towards Palestinian prisoner Dr Issam Hijjawi.

The Edinburgh-based doctor, who has multiple medical conditions, was imprisoned in County Antrim earlier this month and refused bail this week. He was arrested and charged as part of an attempted MI5 ‘sting’ operation directed against the Saoradh political party.

Dr Hijjawi has so far been kept isolated at an area of the high-security County Antrim jail where criminals are normally held, rather than at Roe House which is used for political prisoners.

It took the Palestinian activist over a week and seven letters to the prison’s medical officer and governor to draw attention to his medical condition.

As a result of his maltreatment, he has begun a two-week hunger strike. Remarkably, republican prisoners at Maghaberry and Portlaoise have now joined him in a solidarity hunger protest.

“They have forcefully and punitively isolated Issam for another two weeks on the filthy and dilapidated conditions that exist on Foyle House,” the IRPWA said in a statement.

“It is the prisoners and the IRPWA’s belief that this [hunger strike] could and should have been averted if the Maghaberry regime applied logic and common sense.”

They described the isolation of Dr Hijjawi was “punitive”.

“The IRPWA urgently call on the Maghaberry regime to step back from confrontation and apply common sense by transferring Issam to Roe House where his needs can be safely and humanely cared for.”

Dr Hijjawi was refused bail this week despite the remand court receiving no fewer than thirty character references testifying to his record of non-violent support for Palestinian human rights.

Prosecutors have said he was involved in a meeting of Saoradh activists at which an illegal discussion about the New IRA took place. The meeting is understood to have been orchestrated and bugged by MI5 double agent Dennis McFadden.

The court also heard from defence lawyer Peter Corrigan of Phoenix Law, who described how Dr Hijjawi was brought to a meeting by an agent provocateur. He described the charges as “an affront to freedom of speech.”

Mr Corrigan told how Dr Hijjawi had to go to Belfast to renew a passport for one of his children when he was approached by McFadden, who encouraged him to speak at a public meeting. Dr Hijjawi went to the meeting in Tyrone where he discussed Palestinian history and the Irish parallels.

Dismissing the pleas, District Judge Michael Ranaghan refused bail, citing “the prevalence of terrorist offences in Northern Ireland and worldwide and the nature of those who commit such acts”.

Meanwhile, the IRPWA have also condemned mainstream media outlets for ignoring their announcement on the hunger strike.

“The fact that Irish men are hungering for dignity in a British jail is not newsworthy makes a clear case that there is a complete blanket media ban locally and nationally,” they said.

“The media would rather publish bile; the Republican family are not fooled.”

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