Ms Long told the Assembly that police were preparing for a protest at the gates of Maghaberry prison in support of inmates who have been refusing food for the past week.
A number of prisoners embarked on a hunger strike in support of Palestinian doctor, Issam Hijjawi who was arrested after attending a meeting of alleged members of the New IRA.
Dr Hijjawi (62) embarked on a hunger strike on September 16 when he was isolated for two weeks on his return from an outside hospital following an MRI scan. A number of dissident republican inmates subsequently started refusing food in support of Dr Hijjawi.
Ms Long told the assembly yesterday the prisoners’ actions were in response to the removal of an inmate for medical treatment who was placed in isolation on his return as a Covid-19 precaution.
The Justice Minister said: “We put the safety of our prisoners and prison staff at the forefront of all we do. It is hugely important that we keep Covid out of the prison.”
She also raised a protest planned for this Saturday. Ms Long said her department was liaising with the PSNI to ensure it was handled in an appropriate way.
A spokesman for the Irish Republican Prisoners’ Welfare Association (IRPWA) said prisoners had embarked on their hunger-strike protest over the conditions in which Dr Hijjawi was being held. An IRPWA spokesman claimed he was being isolated for two weeks in “filthy and dilapidated conditions” in Maghaberry’s Foyle House.
“It is the prisoners and IRPWA’s belief that this could and should have been averted if the Maghaberry regime applied logic and common sense,” he said.
“The regime palmed off the families with a refusal to answer questions. The families are genuinely concerned and need answers,” he said.
A Prison Service spokesman said more than 1,000 men have come through Maghaberry’s “isolation areas” and into the main prison since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
He said: “Prisoners in separation have previously accepted the need for a 14-day isolation period.”
Supporters of the inmates intend undertaking a 24 fast outside Maghaberry before a protest on Saturday afternoon. There will also be a white line picket at the Kennedy Centre in West Belfast.
With many thanks to: The Irish News and Seamus McKinney for the original story