US prisoners demand an end to prison slavery

On 9 September, prisoners across the US marked the 45th anniversary of the historic Attica prison uprising in 1971 by commencing a series of strikes and actions which is continuing as we go to press. Nicki Jameson reports.

This wave of protest is the most widespread expression of discontent and resistance to hit the US prison system since the 1970s; however the mainstream press has been largely silent about it. Alternative news website The Intercept, one of the few news sources to report on the strike, described the prisoners’ demands as follows:

‘...inmates are protesting a wide range of issues: from harsh parole systems and three-strike laws to the lack of educational services, medical neglect, and overcrowding. But the issue that has unified protesters is that of prison labor – a $2 billion a year industry that employs nearly 900,000 prisoners while paying them a few cents an hour in some states, and nothing at all in others. In addition to work for private companies, prisoners also cook, clean, and work on maintenance and construction in the prisons themselves.’

 

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Justice for the Craigavon Two! - End brutality in Maghaberry prison!

On 24 September supporters of the framed Craigavon Two demonstrated in Dublin, London and in more than 30 locations worldwide. FRFI supporters joined the protest in London. One of the Craigavon Two, John Paul Wooton, made a phone call from Maghaberry prison to the Dublin protest, which was outside the Irish state broadcaster RTÉ. John Paul condemned the ‘conspiracy of silence’ by RTÉ and other corporate media outlets, accusing them of ‘consenting to the miscarriage of justice’ and ‘actively colluding’ in the wrongful imprisonment of the Craigavon Two.

Brendan McConville and John Paul Wooton were convicted of the killing of PSNI officer Stephen Carroll in March 2009. Following the killing there was a huge state and media outcry and, under pressure to make arrests, the PSNI manufactured and manipulated evidence. The result is that the Craigavon Two are likely to spend the rest of their lives in prison. They need our support.

 

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Books behind bars: I Phoolan Devi – Bandit Queen

Books behind barsOf all the true stories I have read, one stands out as the most painful and inspirational of them all. I, Phoolan Devi: the autobiography of India’s bandit queen by Phoolan Devi is perhaps the greatest and most harrowing account ever produced in print. Nobody who reads this can fail to be moved by the experiences of one of the most unfortunate, yet courageous females to have lived. Kevan Thakrar writes from HMP Wakefield.

Phoolan Devi was born into a poor lower caste family in India where she was heavily disadvantaged from the start. Growing up with almost nothing was not easy, and being female did not help. Unable to conform and submit to local custom, her outspoken resistance led to mild childish bullying building up to the most severely brutal treatment imaginable. When she sought help, those with the ability to intervene instead chose to contribute to her torture.

 

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Swaleside prison - rage, frustration and despair

Swaleside Prison

Prisons Inspector Peter Clarke’s 2016 report regarding Swaleside Category B long-term prison in Kent described it as a ‘dangerous prison’ and one that had deteriorated significantly since his last highly critical report into Swaleside in 2014. In fact, the ghettoisation of Swaleside prison simply reflects the reality of existence in virtually all prisons in England, as mass overcrowding and neo-economic financial cutbacks to every dimension of public spending reduces prisons to little more than penal slums for the most brutalised and marginalised. JOHN BOWDEN, a long-term prisoner, now at Swaleside, reports.

 

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British prisons – ‘tough, unpleasant and uncomfortable’

Responsibility for the prisons of England and Wales now lies with Theresa May’s newly appointed Justice Minister and Attorney General, Liz Truss. Despite having written in 2011 that prisons should be ‘tough, unpleasant and uncomfortable’, Truss has insisted that she will continue the widely publicised ‘prison reform’ programme commenced by her predecessor Michael Gove. Nicki Jameson reports.

While Gove was busy with Brexit and power-grabbing, his ‘reform’ plans, announced in the Queen’s Speech on 18 May, were put on the back burner. The promised Prison Reform Bill does not yet exist, although the first six ‘reform prisons’ have been named and are beginning to operate.

 

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Free Tony Taylor!

Teresa Villiers picket

The continued imprisonment of Derry Republican Tony Taylor demonstrates once more the undemocratic nature of British rule in the north of Ireland.

Tony Taylor is a former Republican prisoner, who was released on licence by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers in August 2014, after three years in prison. He had previously served six years in the 1990s and been released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Since his release in 2014 Tony has been involved in legal political work for the Republican Network for Unity (RNU), including community initiatives and mediation aimed at keeping young people in Derry out of trouble. RNU representatives say that Tony Taylor has ‘spearheaded the revival of RNU in Derry’ and that is why he has been singled out by the British state.

The chair of the Free Tony Taylor Campaign in Derry spoke to FRFI to give us some background: ‘On 10 March 2016 Tony was on a shopping trip with his partner, his disabled son and his two teenage daughters. Armed police surrounded the family car and Tony was arrested and taken straight to Maghaberry prison. Tony’s solicitor has been told that he was returned to gaol on the basis of intelligence reports that he cannot see or challenge.’

 

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Inside News - FRFI 251 Jun/Jul 2016

Whitemoor protest

For several weeks in summer 2015 long-term prisoners on one wing at HMP Whitemoor complained about lack of basic toiletries, including toilet roll and washing-up liquid, lack of access to new clothes and a range of other complaints about their living conditions. Things came to a head at the end of September when the prison closed the wing kitchen, meaning prisoners were unable to cook their own food.

After failing to get staff to address their complaints and having repeatedly requested to see a senior manager to no avail, prisoners staged a peaceful protest by refusing to return to their cells. A manager did then arrive and negotiate, offering the prisoner wing reps a meeting with a governor the following day. The prisoners then returned to their cells.

The day after the meeting, and two days after the protest, 19 prisoners were placed on report for failing to obey the ‘lawful order’ to return to their cells. A disciplinary hearing then found them guilty on this charge, ignoring their solicitor’s submissions that procedural flaws and breaches of Articles 10 (freedom of expression) and 11 (freedom of association) of the European Convention on Human Rights rendered the charges unlawful. Prison Service headquarters has recently reviewed the charges and, presumably fearful of the case ending up in court, overturned the guilty findings (inexplicably all except one which is now being further appealed).

 

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Hillsborough and Orgreave - Questions of state power

Hillsborough and Orgreave

The final verdict of the Hillsborough inquest jury on 26 April 2016 has now established police responsibility for the 96 deaths in 1989. It took 27 years for the victims to get justice. The striking miners who were charged with riot at Orgreave in June 1984 are still waiting for an independent inquiry into police conduct. The Hillsborough verdict has reopened the issue of Orgreave, not least because the same police force was involved. Carol Brickley argues that these events are more than a question of police incompetence and corruption. What lies behind this contemptuous treatment of working class people are questions of state power.

 

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Protest against Close Supervision Centres

KT protest

A secret world exists within the high security prison estate in England, known as the Close Supervision Centre (CSC) system. The dehumanisation of CSC prisoners begins at a very early stage, in the official justification for the creation of the CSC system, which focuses on the need to contain a new breed of unmanageable and unpredictable risks. It continues with the creation of classificatory categories of ‘dangerousness’ which objectify prisoners and make more of the category and less of the human in them, and it is reinforced by the tightly controlled and highly regulated routines.

 

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Joint enterprise – a racist dragnet

On 18 February 2016 the Supreme Court and Privy Council issued an important judgment in relation to convictions on the basis of ‘joint enterprise’. Prison landings were immediately buzzing with excitement, as prisoners convicted of murder or other serious crimes of which they were not the actual perpetrator saw the possibility of an end to their ordeal. Unfortunately the reality is more complex but this is still a very positive step and a credit to the campaign group JENGbA* and others who have fought to get this ruling. Nicki Jameson reports.

 

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Cameron and Gove’s ‘prison reform’ plans

The current prison population of England and Wales stands at 85,930, exceeding the Certified Normal Accommodation (CNA) limit, – the number of prisoners who can be held in decent and safe accommodation – of 77,272. This means that 8,658 men and women are being held above safe capacity, with at least five prisons operating at over 150% of CNA.

It is well known that prisons are not fit for purpose and offer very little in terms of rehabilitation or care for some of the most vulnerable people in society, with 59% reoffending post-release after a sentence of 12 months or less. Despite this, successive governments, both Labour and Tory, have endlessly repeated the mantra that ‘prison works’ and that the way forward is through yet more incarceration.

 

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Birmingham Six - Free! At last!

'I don't think the people in there have got the intelligence to spell the word justice, never mind dispense it. They're rotten!'

Paddy Hill outside the Old Bailey, 14 March 1990

On his release Paddy Hill summed up the character of the British judicial system — rotten to the core. The collapse of the case against the Birmingham 6 exposed the enormity of the cover up over which 11 judges had presided. Without them the intricate web of lies and deception woven by prison officers and 25 police officers, including former Police Superintendent George Reade, could not have withstood the repeated challenges of the Birmingham 6 and their solicitors. LORNA REID examines the biggest political, judicial and police conspiracy in the annals of 'British justice'.

 

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Free all the framed prisoners: John Bowden interviews John Walker of the Birmingham Six

PRISONER-TO-PRISONER : FIGHTBACK SPECIAL - JOHN BOWDEN INTERVIEWS JOHN WALKER IN LONG LARTIN

'I wouldn't extradite a dog to this country'

FREE ALL THE FRAMED PRISONERS

JOHN BOWDEN is a prisoner in Long Lartin and a regular contributor to FRFI. Three days before the final appeal of the Birmingham 6 he managed to record this interview with JOHN WALKER inside the prison.

 

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Policing the crisis

' . . . the latent object appears to have been that of placing at the disposal of the Home Secretary a body of well-trained disciplined and armed men. competent to intimidate the public and to keep down the rising spirit of the population.'

Captain W White, on the formation of the new police force, 1838.

Britain's police, prisons and criminal justice system as a whole are in crisis - we are told. After fifteen years of Tory rule, a mass of legislation, a great more rhetoric about 'crime', 'criminals', 'terrorists', 'yobs', 'single parents' etc, a record prison population and with a repressive Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill on the verge of becoming law - we still need ever more draconian regimes to deal with the 'criminal classes', according to the Government. Grotesque crimes are spotlighted in the media to fuel the endless public appetite for real-life horror. The message is that we are all at risk from violent crime. What is really going on? Yes, the Tories are running scared that they will lose their 'Get Tough on Law and Order' reputation to the revamped Labour Party... but there is more at issue than that. Carol Brickley examines the real purpose of Britain's police force.

 

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Scotland: Jailing then failing the vulnerable

The total Scottish prison population as of 8 January 2016 was 7,895. This is made up of both sentenced and remanded prisoners and includes people released to serve the end part of their sentence on home detention curfew (electronic tagging). Current Scottish government statistics predict this population will remain fairly static between now and 2022-23. Yet more lives, individuals and families, will be torn apart.

In July 2015 the Scotland Institute published a report Mental health and Scotland’s prison population.* Up to 2011 Scotland had the highest incarceration rate in the European Union (150 per 100,000 members of the population) despite recorded crime figures steadily falling since the early 1990s (p8). It stated that ‘despite the gains’ from the SNP government’s Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 which brought to an end the use of short-term prison sentences, replaced by non-custodial community payback orders, ‘Scotland continues to incarcerate the most vulnerable and marginalised in our society’ (p9). It reported that as many as 80% of prisoners, especially women, suffered from poor mental health but were not receiving the services and treatment they required. Since 2000 the female prison population in Scotland has risen by 120% despite conviction rates remaining stable, causing trauma to mothers and their children.

 

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G4S caught in the act of abusing child prisoners

I expect many FRFI readers in prison will have watched the Panorama programme ‘Teenage Prison Abuse Exposed’ on Monday 11 January. Panorama sent an undercover reporter to work as a custody officer at Medway Secure Training Centre (STC) Kent. I was involved in the making of the programme and was not the least bit surprised when the reporter, who carried a hidden camera, recorded scenes of staff gratuitously abusing the young people in their care. I have been on the case of STCs for around seven years and my files are full of horror stories, none of which, until now, we were able to prove. Because, of course, nobody listens to the kids brave enough to report abuse. I was shocked at one scene though, a 15-year-old who had a history of self-harm, being assaulted by a member of staff. The boy had lost his mum when he was seven and the assault took place on the anniversary of her death. Staff were seen boasting of their thuggery to other officers, clearly confident there would not be a whistle-blower among their colleagues.

Medway STC is run by G4S, who also run the other two, Rainsbrook and Oakhill. (Though they are losing the contract to run Rainsbrook in May, after a truly damning inspection report in January 2015.)

Following the programme, G4S put out a statement saying they had sacked four staff members and suspended three more. They also made much of the fact they had passed the allegations of assault by staff over to Kent police. In other words, they were saying that the abuse was down to ‘a few bad apples and we are throwing the book at them’.

 

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Holloway prison to close Summer 2016

On 25 November 2015 Secretary of State for Justice Michael Gove revealed that Holloway prison, Europe’s largest female prison, located in north London, is to be closed in the summer of 2016. Amy Stanley reports.

During its 164 years in operation terrible suffering has been inflicted on women in Holloway and we do not mourn its passing; however it is obvious that this closure is not designed to reduce the number of prisons or the number of people affected by imprisonment, and will in fact create more space within new facilities to imprison more women, while increasing the inconvenience to their families, and giving the government a cash dividend from the sale of the land the prison stands on.

Holloway can hold almost 600 women; according to Gove, its closure will assist to ‘radically reform’ prisons, cut crime, and enhance public safety. However, this claim was overshadowed by the further announcement that the site is to be sold to become luxury housing. Gove boasts about contributing to solving the housing crisis but these new homes will be entirely unaffordable for local working class people, including of course the very same women and families who have experienced the criminal justice system inside Holloway.

 

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Inside News - FRFI 248 Dec 2015/Jan 2016

Shaker Aamer – free at last

On 30 October Shaker Aamer, a British resident held without charge at the US concentration camp in Guantanamo for nearly 14 years was finally released. Shaker Aamer is a Saudi citizen who had lived since 1996 in London and whose wife is British. He was captured by bounty hunters in Afghanistan and handed over to US forces in December 2001, before being taken to Guantanamo Bay two months later. He has never been charged with any offence and was cleared for release in 2007. During his incarceration, Aamer suffered extensive ill-treatment at the hands of his captors, with the full knowledge of British officials. A psychiatric report in December 2013 concluded he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety, and experiencing hallucinations as a consequence of years of isolation and inhumane treatment. He now intends to sue the British government over its complicity in his mistreatment. The RCG, which has supported the campaign for his release over many years, welcomes Shaker Aamer’s release. Now we must demand: Close down Guantanamo! Free all the detainees!

 

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Liverpool prison – filthy and dangerous

Between 11 and 22 May 2015, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) conducted an unannounced inspection of HMP Liverpool,* which holds 1,191 male prisoners. The subsequent report, published on 20 October, revealed appalling and inhumane conditions with overcrowded, filthy cells and prisoners locked up for 23 hours a day; circumstances which had led to 11 deaths during the previous 14 months. Amy Stanley reports.

HMIP reports summarise the conditions and treatment of prisoners based on four tests of a ‘decent prison’: safety, respect, purposeful activity and resettlement. Overall, the 2015 report stated that outcomes in HMP Liverpool were ‘not sufficiently good’ across each of the criteria, which is management-speak for dreadful.

 

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Transgender prisoner wins fight for proper location

On 23 October 2015, 26-year-old transgender woman Tara Hudson was sent to a male prison, sparking serious fears for her safety. She had pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to 12 weeks’ imprisonment. She was then sent to Bristol prison, a Category B local gaol with a track record of violence, according to the prisons inspectorate.

After an online petition reached 140,000 signatures, and after demonstrations outside Bristol Crown Court, Tara was moved to Eastwood Park, a female prison, in South Gloucestershire, where she said she was ‘ten times happier’. Before the move, Tara was confined to her cell for 23 hours a day and during the brief periods she was unlocked was subjected to verbal sexual abuse from other inmates.

 

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Inminds: Drop the charges now!

On 17 October two members of the Inminds group, which campaigns in solidarity with Palestine, were arrested on a Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) demonstration in London. Abbas Ali’s and Antonio Maniscalco’s alleged crime was to fly the flag of Hezbollah alongside the Palestinian flag against the wishes of the PSC leadership, who through their actions in denouncing the two men from the platform, encouraged the police to arrest them. 

The two men were questioned by SO15 counter-terrorism officers, their homes were raided and computers and Inminds campaign material seized. Draconian bail conditions were imposed, preventing them from being involved in any Palestine solidarity events.

 

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Justice for Terry Smith

Terry Smith

Sadly, it is no revelation to say that the police often manufacture evidence during investigations; nor that they often convince a jury to convict an innocent man. But what is at the extreme end of evil, is when the police deliberately concoct an entire crime. TERRY SMITH writes from HMP SWALESIDE

My nightmare ordeal started back in May 2008, when I was flying high as an Essex true crime writer and TV consultant. Armed Police stormed my family home and arrested me for a spate of seven unsolved cash-in-transit robberies in east London and south Essex between 2000 and, 2008, and the callous shooting of a brave have-a-go-commuter during a cash-box robbery at Rayleigh station, Essex, in May 2007.

 

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All charges against Kevan Thakrar dropped

After more than two years since the false allegations of assault were made against me by a Manchester prison officer, a verdict has been entered by the judge of Not Guilty, without the need for a trial. Expecting to be attending Manchester Crown Court on 18 November for the purpose of setting security arrangements for the scheduled trial on 30 November following complaint by the Prison Service, I was greeted instead by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) confirming my innocence and withdrawing the case. Kevan Thakrar writes from HMP Wakefield.

 

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Inside News

Assault in Whitemoor

In early 2015 the Prison and Probation Ombudsman published an unusually detailed report into complaints by John Dunlop about being assaulted by staff at Whitemoor prison. The Ombudsman found that John was restrained and forced to the floor by staff in the segregation unit for refusing an order to go back into his cell, without being given any time to obey the order, and that the force used was not proportionate or reasonable. Despite not resisting, he was kicked and knelt on, before being dragged to his feet and forced back into the cell. He was then denied access to a doctor and the police liaison officer and his complaints about being assaulted, instead of being properly and formally looked into, were dealt with by a cursory informal investigation which, not surprisingly, concluded that he had no cause for complaint. John has sent FRFI the Ombudsman’s report which we are unable to publish in full in the paper, but which can be accessed via our website.

 

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Liverpool: Free the Lovebank 4

On Thursday 17 September, five Loveactivist protesters were gaoled for ten weeks for occupying the empty Bank of England building in central Liverpool in support of homeless people. Although all had pleaded guilty, there was no expectation that they would receive a custodial sentence. However, given the spate of occupations across the country highlighting homelessness, it was evident that there had been a decision to make an example of the five. Although one of the gaoled activists, Chelsea Stafford, was given a suspended sentence and released on appeal, the other four will have to serve their time. FRFI readers are urged to send cards and letters to them.

The political momentum to occupy the Bank of England was provided by a militant solidarity campaign with the Palestinian people in Liverpool during the summer of 2014 which repeatedly occupied shops and banks either selling Israeli goods or investing in the Israeli economy, and in which FRFI supporters played a leading role. The spark was provided by cuts in Liverpool council services to the homeless. On 18 April 2015, activists seized the building and held it until the last five were forcibly evicted on 12 May. The occupation provided a safe space for dozens of rough sleepers and homeless people every night until the police sealed off any access on 29 April; over 1,000 people passed through the building bringing donations of food or expressing solidarity with its anti-austerity message, while polls showed that there was majority public support for the action. Despite subsequent denials, the local Whitechapel homeless charity referred homeless people to the occupation as it had no beds in the city.

 

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Assault in Whitemoor

In early 2015 the Prison and Probation Ombudsman published an unusually detailed report into complaints by John Dunlop about being assaulted by staff at Whitemoor prison. The Ombudsman found that John was restrained and forced to the floor by staff in the segregation unit for refusing an order to go back into his cell, without being given any time to obey the order, and that the force used was not proportionate or reasonable. Despite not resisting, he was kicked and knelt on, before being dragged to his feet and forced back into the cell.

 

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Justice for Anis Sardar

On 21 May 2015, 38-year-old Anis Sardar from Wembley, north London, was convicted of the murder of a US soldier in Iraq in 2007 and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 38 years. He was the first person to be sentenced in a British court for participating in the violent turmoil which followed the US and British invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. His friends and family in London say that Anis has been wrongly convicted and have set up the Justice4Anis campaign. NAFISA from the campaign writes here for FRFI.

Anis was born and grew up in London. In 1997, having developed an interest in Arabic, he went to Syria, then a peaceful country and a popular destination for learning the language. He found the study difficult but after several trips began a degree at Fatih Al Islami University, and was there in 2003, when the US and British forces invaded Iraq.

 

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Pentonville for sale

On 22 June the Inspectorate of Prisons published a damning report of an unannounced inspection of Pentonville prison, north London carried out in February. The inspectors found the prison was filthy, with areas piled high with rubbish and a lack of basic items such as clean clothing, bedding, cleaning materials and eating utensils. It was also dangerous with two-thirds of prisoners reporting they had felt unsafe at some time and over 40% at the time of the inspection.

 

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Britain’s most racist prison

kevan thakrar

‘I am of Pakistani ethnicity, a practising Muslim and a Terrorism Act convict. The first two attributes are why the CPS charged me under the Terrorism Act, as opposed to the Communications Act (let alone respecting my purported human right to Freedom of Expression).’ BILAL AHMAD writes.

I was born and raised in the UK; yet the sentencing remarks directed at me included: ‘You purport to be a British citizen but what you stand for is totally alien to what we stand for in our country.’ I was disassociated from the country of my birth due to my ethnicity and religion before being sentenced to 17 years’ imprisonment, for what was essentially a public order offence at most.

 

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Support Kevan Thakrar at court on 14 August

Kevan Thakrar Trial

Thank you to everyone who turned up to my support demonstration at Manchester Crown Court on 22 May, especially those who went on to write about the experience, and not forgetting those who couldn’t attend but helped organise. I was sorry not to be able to see you all, but it seems my appearing by video-link was no mistake.

The judge gave an order at the previous hearing that I be produced in person following HMP Full Sutton staff having assaulted me prior to the video-link, then refusing to leave the room to allow for a private legal conference pre-hearing with my barrister, resulting in nothing of substance being achievable. It seems that no intention of enforcing this order every existed, and it was simply made for the sake of appearances to a courtroom packed with supporters. Wakefield’s Head of Security claims they applied to Manchester Crown Court on 12 May to be able to ignore this order and received confirmation that they could do so on 19 May, yet nobody told either my legal team or me until I lodged an internal complaint at the prison for its failure to produce me. Supporters in the court will recall the judge cutting me off when I questioned my attendance – and now they know why.

 

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Oppression of Muslim prisoners in British prisons

Due to government cuts, prisoners can no longer get legal aid in relation to most problems arising from their imprisonment, regardless of how serious they are. We are forced to rely on the internal complaints procedure, which is far from helpful. The system of the prison investigating itself does not work. Prisoner AB writes from HMP Frankland.

The Muslim population in British prisons is under constant attack on many fronts, both physical and psychological. Prison guards up and down the country have taken it upon themselves to oppress Muslims through the desecration of our religion and through violent attacks. Muslim prisoners have become an easy target for guards who, through the Prison Officers Association (POA), feed the media tales of the threat posed by Muslims and the bogeyman of ‘radicalisation’ in order to advance their racism and Islamophobic actions without too much hindrance. These actions are aimed at individuals and their sacred religious beliefs. Muslim prisoners in segregation (solitary confinement) are routinely attacked by guards, with some of them being injured. This violation is justified by the likes of the POA who cover up wrongdoing by their fellow guards and go into hyperdrive in painting a negative picture of Muslim prisoners.

 

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