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Issue #1592      May 8, 2013

Free Marian Price

“It is a clear signal to everyone who is not ‘on board’ and who is not of the same mind as the government that no dissent will be tolerated. No dissent will be tolerated and you challenge the status quo at your peril.” Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, Irish civil rights leader and former Six Counties MP.

Marian Price, 58, is a long-time Irish republican activist, an ex-IRA volunteer and ex-political prisoner. She was given two life sentences for a series of four bomb blasts in London in March 1973. The Old Bailey courts and an army recruitment centre were targeted. She was one of nine republicans sentenced, including her sister Dolours and Gerry Kelly, who is now a Minister in the Northern Ireland government.

Marian Price was given a Royal Pardon in 1980 and left prison suffering from TB and anorexia and weighing only 32 kilograms. Marian and Dolours had spent 200 days on hunger strike demanding to be transferred to Northern Ireland, where Republican prisoners had status as political prisoners. They were both forcibly restrained and force-fed three times a day over the last 167 days of the hunger strike.

Despite her health issues and prolonged imprisonment Marian’s commitment to her Irish Republican and Nationalist principles meant she remained politically active after her release. Her outspoken criticism of British rule caused problems for the British administration, who had probably hoped she would quietly fade from the political scene. Marian’s continued activism and vocal support of Republicanism kept her under scrutiny and made her a target for the security services eager to silence her and other dissenters.

Marian Price was returned to prison in 2011, but not on the basis of fresh evidence or any new offence. The Northern Ireland Secretary, Owen Patterson, ordered her detention and charged her with encouraging support for an illegal organisation. The basis of this charge is that Marian attended a 1916 Easter Rising Commemoration held in Derry; one of many held by Irish Republicans each year and while there in windy conditions, she held up a piece of paper for a masked man from the 32-County Sovereignty Movement as he read out a message. Three days after this event Marian was arrested.

She was then granted bail, but arrested again after she left the court on the orders of Owen Patterson. This time the reason was based on secret information from the British intelligence services, which claims the evidence cannot be revealed due to national security concerns. Later Marian was also charged with “providing property for the purposes of terrorism”; this allegedly related to her purchase of a phone, which authorities “think” was later used by attackers who killed two soldiers in 2009. Many people believe this is merely an attempt by the British authorities to link Marian with a crime.

No evidence or connection to the incident was produced and she was again granted bail, by the court. But Marian has since remained in prison because of Paterson’s order. Marian’s real transgression has seemingly been her critical remarks about the conditions in the northeast of Ireland and of the Good Friday agreement between Britain and Sinn Fein.

Solitary confinement as torture

“ ... the use of solitary confinement can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, which is proscribed by the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and under the UN Convention Against Torture,” says Juan E Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

After her arrest Marian Price was held in solitary confinement in Maghaberry high security prison for more than nine months, despite not being convicted of any unlawful activities. Then in February 2012, Marian was taken to Hydebank Women’s Prison where she served another nine months in solitary confinement. In May 2012, the so-called charges involving the Easter Commemoration incident were thrown out of court by a judge. Still Marian remained in prison as her mental and physical health rapidly deteriorated. In June, 2012, by now seriously ill, she was transferred to a secure ward at Belfast Hospital.

The revised European Prison Rules of 2006 clearly state that solitary confinement should be an exceptional measure and, when used, should be for as short a time as possible. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has also stated that prolonged solitary confinement constitutes a form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment prohibited under Article 5 of the American Convention on Human Rights (Castillo Petruzzi et al., Judgment of May 30, 1999).

Solitary confinement harms prisoners who are not previously mentally ill and tends to worsen the mental health of those who are. The use of solitary confinement in prisons should therefore be kept to a minimum. In all prison systems there is some use of solitary confinement – in special units or prisons for those seen as threats to security and prison order.

The UN’s lead investigator on torture, Juan Mendez, has called for governments to end the use of long spells of solitary confinement in prison. He said such isolation could cause serious mental and physical damage and amounted to torture. He further said that short term isolation was permissible only for prisoner protection, but all solitary confinement longer than 15 days should be banned.

Widespread support

“A serious case of injustice and denial of human rights and judicial rights in the north of Ireland. We believe that her detention is unjust and runs contrary to the principles of natural justice. We believe very strongly that Marian Price McGlinchey should be released. Her human rights have been breached. She has been denied justice and due process.

“She is seriously ill. Her detention undermines the justice system and the political process. She clearly presents no threat to anyone.” Joint statement issued by Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and Six County Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness appealing to Hillary Clinton and other US political leaders to support calls for the release of Marian Price, November 10, 2012.

The campaign to release Marian Price has encompassed a diverse range of people and political, social and community organisations across Ireland and elsewhere. Some of the many voices raised calling for her freedom from imprisonment include the two Nationalist parliamentary parties in the north. Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams called for Marian’s release last November, January and again in March.

Martin McGuiness also attended and gave evidence at the Parole Commissioners hearing a short time ago. Social Democratic Labour Party leader Dr Alistair McDonnell called for her release on March 30. Pat Ramsey (SDLP) has been a vocal supporter of the release of Marian for over 12 months. As has Angela Nelson: Independent Councillor, Lisburn Council.

The following Republican and Nationalist parties and groups have also campaigned vigorously for Marian’s freedom. The 32 County Sovereignty Movement, Irish Republican Socialist Party, Republican Network for Unity, EIRIGI, Republican Sinn Fein, Irish Freedom Committee, Friends of Irish Freedom, The Celtic League, The United Celtic Brotherhood, the 1916 Societies. As well, Dublin City Council, Fermanagh Council, Dungannon Council, Galway Council, Derry Council, Sligo Council, Omagh Council. Among other organisations calling for Marian’s release are the Scottish Republican Socialist Party and Human Rights Watch UK.

Justice for Marian Price

“I think what is very important for people to recognise that what is happening to Marian is not an isolated case. While it’s happening here in Northern Ireland and we have had to call upon the UN Rapporteur for Health to exercise his authority to examine it ... the arrogance with which many of the Western powers, who created the UN in the middle of the 20th century, and actually undermine that organisation in both its protection of the UN Charter on Human Rights, it’s collective role for peace keeping, for democracy, and for compliance with UN resolutions.

“I think Marian’s case is symptomatic of those things we see every day ... That people can still be imprisoned without due process and that many countries, particularly in the very powerful Western alliances, feel that UN resolutions and UN protections are for protecting them from their enemies, but not people from powerful states. And that’s what I was saying. That Marian’s case is not just something peculiar to the Northern Ireland situation. The increasing confidence with which fundamental human rights and due process and protections are being ignored – I think is frightening.” Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey.

Really, this is back to the days of internment without trial. Marian Price is being held purely because of her dissident views and vocal criticisms. She is being selectively targeted because she holds different views and refuses to remain silent in the face of British coercion and repression. The British justice system’s mistreatment of Marian Price has again blatantly exposed it as the disgraceful, hypocritical and discriminatory structure that it is, a fact that Irish people have experienced throughout the colonial occupation of Ireland.

Marian’s case reveals the sham British judicial system has for genuine fairness and due process. Twice she was granted bail by judges, only to be rearrested due to orders signed by the Northern Ireland Secretary of State. Marian Price has been illegally imprisoned. The lack of a genuine case against Marian and her imprisonment without due process is a travesty that must be remedied by her unconditional freedom.

Marian Price’s continued imprisonment and ordeal shows an utter contempt for justice by the British state. Her human rights are being grossly violated by her long-term incarceration. Marian Price is effectively detained without trial, sentence or release date. This lack of any due process means she could be held for an indefinite time, an illegitimate procedure that allows the British administration to hold her for the rest of her life if they so desire. This blatant injustice of illegal imprisonment must cease. On the basis of compassionate, legal, civil, political and those of common sense Marian Price should be released immediately.   

Next article – Putting people and the planet before profits

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