The Irish Republican Prisoners incarcerated in Portlaoise are today to embark on a 72 hour fast to highlight the injustices faced by political prisoners both here and around the world. The origins in the plans to commence a 72 hour fast lay largely in showing solidarity with Patxi Ruiz, a Basque Political Prisoner who has subsequently ended his hunger strike. The demands set out by Ruiz and his fellow Political Prisoners equate to nothing short of their basic human rights. These include the safety and integrity of all Basque Prisoners and an end to violence and threats of violence. The transfer for all Basque Prisoners to the Basque Country and those who are not from the Basque country to be transferred as close as possible to their original place of residence. The refusal of such basic human rights highlights the attempts to both polarise and criminalise the political prisoner and their struggle. While Patxi has now ended his hunger strike, we take this opportunity to offer him our full support and hope that any demands acceded to are fully implemented. However, we will continue to use this opportunity to highlight the plight of political prisoners here and that of our fellow revolutionaries around the world.
Political Prisoners have long been on the receiving end of the harshest of treatment from state forces. Political activists are often tried in front of military courts which are used to convict Palestinians (including children), or juryless courts such as the Special Court here with its 94% conviction rate. However, the oppression begins long before the inevitable conviction of a political activist. Constant threats, assaults, taunts and house raids usually precede an eventual arrest. This targeted state incursion on an activist’s life is then used as evidence to secure a remand in custody, where an activist can be remanded for many years before getting to trial.
Political Prisoners are usually held in conditions well below the standard of ordinary social prisoners. In Portlaoise, Republican prisoners are held in E Block, a near 200-year-old prison within a prison, which remains the only block on the island without in-cell sanitation. It was also the only block within the Free State in which no prisoners were released as part of a structured release of 600 prisoners as part of a plan to ease the prison population at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. This despite the worries of medical practitioners within the gaol and the fact that some prisoners only had a matter of days left on their sentence. In Maghaberry in the occupied six counties, prisoners are subjected to degrading strip searches, beatings and social restrictions, along with sectarian abuse. An agreement in August 2010 which was to offer Republican Prisoners some respite from the above has failed to be implemented, furthering the suffering of those incarcerated there.
These same issues are faced by political prisoners across the world. Palestinian political prisoners, hundreds of whom are sick, are held by Israeli occupying forces and forced to live in cramped cells with an ever increasing threat to their physical health and mental wellbeing. The occupying forces have also threatened to eradicate their very limited rights even further by such moves as stopping visits and limiting further social activity.
Earlier in the year, the death in Turkey of Ibrahim Gokcek and Helin Bolek of the folk music band Grup Yorum highlighted the Turkish states persecution of left wing groups. Having been released from gaol, they continued their strike on behalf of two other band members who remained incarcerated, before eventually succumbing to the effects of the hunger strike. Kurdish political prisoners also feel the wrath of a harsh right wing Turkish government. With little or no options available to them across the political spectrum to challenge the conservative government they are often left to utilise the only tool left available to them, their bodies.
While it is important for Irish people to high light these injustices around the world, it is equally as important to highlight the equivalent injustices at home. Palestinian political activist’s homes are being wrecked and ransacked by armed occupying forces. Irish political activist’s homes are also being wrecked and ransacked by armed occupying forces. Basque, Catalan and Palestinian prisoners to name a few are subject to degrading treatment and deplorable prison conditions. Irish political prisoners are also subject to degrading treatment and deplorable prison conditions. There is no difference between an Irish political prisoner, a Basque political prisoner, a Palestinian political prisoner or a Catalan political prisoner. There is an uncomfortableness in some people in admitting that. That’s because with it comes a realisation that it is a lot easier to highlight the plight of others when your thousands of miles away, while burying your head in the sand at the very same issues in your own country.
While former Republican Prisoners call on the release of political prisoners around the world, they are deathly silent on the issue of Irish Republican Prisoners. Many of those former prisoners have become part of the very system which persecuted, tortured, beat and terrorised them, and stay silent as they continue to do so to the current generation of Irish Republican prisoners.
Throughout the year we receive cards and letters offering words of support from people throughout the world including multiple left wing groups, newspapers, magazines and individuals. The people of Palestine have a huge interest in highlighting the injustices of Irish political prisoners, as do the people of the Basque Country, yet there are those in Ireland who refuse to acknowledge the plight of Irish Republican Prisoners.
We call on all you who are highlighting the injustices around the world to get involved in highlighting the plight of Irish Republican Prisoners. We are continuing to face the same injustices you are trying to highlight in other countries. Stand with the Irish political prisoners just as you stand with the Palestinians. Their cause is our cause and our cause is theirs. We are all political prisoners; we are all one. In the words of Bobby Sands “I am a political prisoner. I am a political prisoner because I am a casualty of a perennial war that is being fought between the oppressed Irish people and an alien, oppressive, unwanted regime that refuses to withdraw from our land”
Irish Republican Prisoners