Internment: It hasn’t gone away, you know.

Yesterday finally saw an agreement for Israel to release the Bilal Thiab and Thaer Halahle, interned under their policy of “administrative detention”. After 77 days of hunger strike, ill, hospitalised and near death, the Israeli government finally caved in to both local and international pressure to release the men, bringing no charges – which kindof makes you wonder what they were in there in the first place for. Over 2000 Palestinian prisoners who participated in a mass hunger strike have also ended their protest on the fourth week against the policy which sees Palestinians imprisoned on the whim of the Israeli State, as  part of an agreement to end isolation; allow family visits; enable dialogue over prison condition and soften the policy of administrative detention.

A lively and active support campaign has been ran in Glasgow for Bilal and Thaer as with for Hana Shalabi and Khader Adnan before, and I have no doubt that this support will continue for those free Palestine. Many links have been made between the Palestine under Israeli occupation and Ireland under British occupation, including in particular the Irish Hunger Strikers of the 1980s. Yet there is a far more contemporary example of internment, this time of a former hunger striker who was tortured by the British in the 1970s and has been interned under conditions of solitary confinement for the past year. Marian Price was part of a four wo/man IRA cell which bombed the Old Bailey in 1973.   Held in Brixton Prison, she went on hunger strike for 200 days demanding a transfer to gaol in Ireland. Brutally force-fed over four hundred times, she developed tuberculosis and anorexia as a result of her treatment, and weighed less than six stone when finally released in 1980. In an interview in 2004she recalled the torture that had occurred, remembering the events of 30 years past vividly.

Four male prison officers tie you into the chair so tightly with sheets you can’t struggle. You clench your teeth to try to keep your mouth closed but they push a metal spring device around your jaw to prise it open. They force a wooden clamp with a hole in the middle into your mouth. Then, they insert a big rubber tube down that. They hold your head back. You can’t move. They throw whatever they like into the food mixer – orange juice, soup, or cartons of cream if they want to beef up the calories. They take jugs of this gruel from the food mixer and pour it into a funnel attached to the tube. The force-feeding takes 15 minutes but it feels like forever. You’re in control of nothing. You’re terrified the food will go down the wrong way and you won’t be able to let them know because you can’t speak or move. You’re frightened you’ll choke to death.

The torture only ended after a doctor inserted the tube into her lung rather than her stomach, nearly drowning her and the staff refused to obey instructions coming from the authorities to continue the torture. She was repatriated to Ireland two weeks later. Released on licence in 1980, she was later granted a Royal Pardon.

On 13th May 2011, Price held a piece of paper for a masked man to read from at an Easter Commemoration in Derry. On the 16th May, Price was released on bail for the offence, then immediately re-arrested on the steps outside the court on the advice that the British Secretary of State for Ireland had revoked the terms of her licence – an action which was null and void, given the Royal Pardon she had received. The British State has since claimed that this document has either been shredded or lost. For nine months, Price was held in solitary confinement within an all-male prison, before, in the face of her deteriorating health, being transferred to the healthcare unit of Hydebank Women’s Prison, again segregated from the other prisoners. Both her physical and mental health have deteriorated as a result of her treatment, while she has no privacy.  The UN recognises such treatment as torture.

Indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement in excess of 15 days should  be subject to an absolute prohibition….Considering the severe mental pain or suffering solitary confinement may cause, it can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pre-trial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period…

To add insult to injury, too ill to stand trial or even appear in court by video link  to hear charges against her were dismiss earlier this month, she is still being held after the Director of Public Prosecutions announced that he would proceed with the prosecution despite the ruling.

Internment, torture and political vindictiveness – wrong in occupied Palestine, wrong in occupied Ireland.   The plight of the Palestinian prisoners should remind us of the hunger-strikers interned by the British State, not just the ones who were held and died thirty years ago, but those who were held and lived – only to be interned and tortured all over again.

Free Marion Price

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