HARK:Northern Ireland Human Rights Initiative
Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, veteran Irish civil rights leader, said in response to the case of Irish republican Marian Price, who was returned to jail in 2011: “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.”.
Marian Price, 59, is a long-time Irish republican activist and ex-Irish Republican Army volunteer. She was given two life sentences over bomb blasts in London in March 1973 that targeted a British army recruitment centre and Old Bailey courts. Price was one of nine republicans sentenced, including her sister Dolours and Gerry Kelly, who is now Sinn Fein MLA for North Belfast.
Price was given a “royal pardon” in 1980 and left prison suffering from poor health and weighing only five stone. The Price sisters had spent 200 days on hunger strike demanding to be transferred to a jail in Ireland’s north, where republican prisoners had political status.
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 jailing, Price 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.
Price’s continued activism and vocal support for republicanism kept her under scrutiny and made her a target for British security services.
Jailed on orders of government official
Price was returned to prison in 2011, not on the basis of fresh evidence or any new offence. Rather, then-British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Owen Paterson ordered her detention and charged her with encouraging support for an illegal organisation.
The basis of this charge is that Price attended a 1916 Easter Rising Commemoration held in Derry; one of many held by Irish republicans each year. At the event, Price held up a piece of paper for a masked man from the 32-County Sovereignty Movement as he read out a message.
Three days later, Price was arrested. She was then granted bail, but arrested again after she left the court on Paterson’s orders.
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, Price 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.
Price’s supporters believe this is merely an attempt by the British authorities to link her with a crime. No evidence or connection to the incident was produced and she was again granted bail by the court.
Yet Price remains in prison due to Paterson’s order.
Price’s real transgression seems to be her critical remarks about conditions in the six Irish counties still claimed by Britain, and of the Good Friday Agreement that lead to the power-sharing arrangement between Sinn Fein and parties that support British rule in the north.
After her arrest, Price was held in solitary confinement in the all-male Maghaberry high security prison for more than nine months, despite not being convicted of any crime.
Then in February last year, Price was taken to Hydebank Women’s Prison where she served another nine months in solitary confinement.
In May last year, the so-called charges involving the Easter Commemoration incident were thrown out of court by a judge. Still Price remained in prison as her mental and physical health rapidly deteriorated.
Then in June, by now seriously ill, she was transferred to a secure ward at Belfast hospital.
The European Court and former Commission on Human Rights, as well as the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), have said the use of solitary confinement can be classified as torture, depending on the circumstances.
The CPT has also said that solitary confinement “can amount to inhuman and degrading treatment” and has on several occasions criticised such practices. It has recommended reforms such as abandoning specific regimes, limiting the use of solitary confinement to exceptional circumstances, and/or securing inmates a higher level of social contact.
Furthermore, the revised European Prison Rules of 2006 have clearly stated 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.
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. Mendez 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.
Support for Price
In a joint statement in November last year appealing to US officials visiting Ireland to support calls for the release of Price, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein deputy first minister of the Northern Ireland Executive Martin McGuinness said: “[Price’s treatment is 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.”
The campaign to release Price has encompassed a diverse range of people and political, social and community organisations across Ireland and elsewhere. Calls for her freedom have been backed by the two parliamentary nationalist parties in the north, Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP).
Adams called for Marian’s release in November, January and again in March. McGuinness has also appealed several times for her release, most recently at Sinn Fein’s Ard Fheis (congress). He also attended and gave evidence at the Parole Commissioners hearing a short time ago.
SDLP leader Alistair McDonnell called for her release on March 30. SDLP MLA Pat Ramsey has been a vocal supporter of the release of Price, as has Lisburn independent councillor Angela Nelson.
The campaign is also supported by a wide range of republican and national groups, including the 32 County Sovereignty Movement (of which Price is a member), 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 and the 1916 Societies.
Calls for Price’s freedom have also come from Dublin City Council, Fermanagh Council, Dungannon Council, Galway Council, Derry Council, Sligo Council and Omagh Council.
Among other groups calling for Price’s release are the Scottish Republican Socialist Party and Human Rights Watch UK.
Devlin McAliskey said: “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 … [it relfects] the arrogance [of] many of the Western powers …
“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.
“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.”
The treatment of Price amounts to a return to the bad days of interment without trial, enforced by the British on the nationalist community in Ireland’s north in the early 1970s.
Price is being held purely because of her views and criticisms. She is being selectively targeted because she refuses to remain silent in the face of British coercion and repression.
The British justice system’s mistreatment of Price has again 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.
Price’s case reveals the contempt the 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. Price has been illegally imprisoned. The lack of a genuine case against Price and her jailing without due process is a travesty that must be remedied by her unconditional freedom.
Price’s human rights are being grossly violated by her long-term incarceration. She is effectively detained without trial, sentence or release date. This 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 it so desires.
On the basis of compassion, legal, civil and political rights, and those of common sense, Price should be released immediately.