Free Julian Assange!

February 2024 demo at the High Court in London in support of Julian Assange

Julian Assange has won the right to further challenge extradition to the US. On 20 May, the High Court ruled that Assange may appeal against the US government’s requests to extradite him to face 18 charges of espionage relating to documents published on WikiLeaks that revealed war crimes. This comes after the High Court delayed the ruling in March to give the US time to offer assurances relating to the conditions under which he would stand trial, if extradited.

 

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Censorship of FRFI

Since we began producing FRFI in 1979, the paper has always had a loyal readership behind bars. In order to ensure our prison subscribers continue to receive FRFI, we have constantly had to fight against censorship by the authorities. In the recent period we have had to write letters of complaint to Littlehey, Buckley Hall and Garth prisons, complaining about their interference with our publication.

 

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Gang culture vs solidarity

Prison culture in Britain is increasingly replicating the US prison gang system and destroying the solidarity that existed in long-term prisons, especially during the 1960s-90s, frequently manifesting itself in rebellions and uprisings. The growth of gang culture and violence in British prisons in the past 20 years is actively encouraged by staff to keep prisoners divided and disempowered. John Bowden reports.

 

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Bedford prison the truth must come out

In the last issue of FRFI we reported on the death of remand prisoner Melvin Grant in HMP Bedford. On 12 March a preliminary inquest hearing took place and the full inquest will take place on 29 May. While there has been a significant amount of mainstream press coverage in the past six months of the terrible conditions in Bedford prison, as highlighted by reports from the Prison’s Inspectorate, there has been nothing about Melvin’s death. His family are hoping that this will change when the inquest happens.

 

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Julian Assange fighting for his life

The High Court has ruled that WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange may be allowed to make a further appeal against the US government’s ongoing attempts to extradite him to the US - but only if the Biden administration is unable to offer a specific set of assurances around the extradition. On 26 March 2024, Judge Victoria Sharp issued a written judgement to the effect that Assange will be given permission to appeal if the US cannot provide assurances that he would be protected by the First Amendment of the US constitution, that he would not be barred from this on the grounds of his foreign nationality and that he will not face the death penalty. The High Court has given the US until 16 April to make these assurances. Seamus O’ Tuairisc reports.

 

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Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! Free all political prisoners!

 On 23 March the Free Mumia UK campaign teamed up with North London Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!  to hold a speak-out in Dalston, north London in solidarity with Mumia.

Revolutionary activist and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal will turn 70 on 24 April 2024. This will be his 42nd birthday behind bars. Mumia was framed for a crime he did not commit and convicted following a trial steeped in racism and judicial misconduct. The call to free Mumia is more urgent than ever, with his health rapidly declining.

 

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Julian Assange in court for last-ditch appeal

After a four-year long legal battle, Julian Assange will be back in court on 20-21 February 2024 for a hearing which may be his last chance to contest his extradition to the US. If he loses and the extradition goes ahead, this will set a dangerous precedent for the future of independent journalism. Seamus O’ Tuairisc reports.

 

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Close Bedford prison death-trap!

The British prison system is a vile sewer which men and women can enter in good health and come out broken or never emerge at all. Newer prisons are soulless places, lacking basic medical care and facilities, while the old, crumbling ones in use for two centuries are over-run with rats, cockroaches and other vermin. The Chief Inspector of Prisons routinely makes recommendations for ways in which the government can at least patch up some of the devastation, but these are never heeded.

On 15 November 2023, the Chief Inspector issued an Urgent Notification in relation to Bedford Prison, requiring action by the Prison Service within 28 days. Among other points this noted that:

Bedford had the third highest rate of recorded self-harm in the adult male estate. Care for prisoners at risk of self-harm was undermined by an inadequate mental health service and weak case management.

New prisoners were placed into dirty, graffitied cells.

  • The use of force remained very high, with too many examples of excessive force and unprofessional behaviour.
  • Three-quarters of prisoners lived in overcrowded conditions. Most spent more than 22 hours a day locked in their cells. The wings were dirty and there was a
  • widespread infestation of rats and cockroaches. Some cells had broken windows and black mould on the walls.
  • The segregation unit was squalid, staff were forced to use sandbags and wear Wellington boots due to overflowing sewage pipes after heavy rain.
  • Prisoners expressed real frustration at their inability to get anything done, for example, accessing property, applying for a job or adding families’ numbers to their phone.

On 21 November, just days after this damning indictment was published, 42-year-old remand prisoner Melvin Grant died in hospital, having been taken there from the prison a week earlier. His treatment graphically illustrates many of the points highlighted by the inspectorate. Melvin’s brother Morris spoke to FRFI:

Morris: Initially Melvin was in prison in south London and he was able to phone and we’d visit once a week or more frequently. But when he went to court, they said there was no space in Thameside prison so they sent him two hours away to Bedford. After that we didn’t have any communication with him. We were trying to get visits booked but the phone would just pick up and put down, so over four to five weeks we didn’t have any communication at all.

The first we knew of him being in hospital was when my mum called me at work on 14 November, crying down the phone, saying a chaplain from Belmarsh prison had come to Melvin’s home address and told his nan he was in intensive care in a bad way, that he’s tried to take his own life. That was the first contact with that prison.

So I came home and we drove up to the hospital. The doctors said he’d been brought in because of strangulation cutting off the air to his brain but nobody from the prison could tell us anything. They said when they found him he was breathing and they took him to hospital. The hospital was trying to work out what had happened and was doing tests. They said he’d been admitted to hospital before, a few days earlier, but nobody had told us anything about that.

FRFI: So they are saying that your brother was suicidal and self-harming, but nobody contacted you at all?

Morris: On the last day a deputy governor came with a police liaison and spoke to us, saying Melvyn had tried to take his life on three occasions. Before then, it was just the imam. I told the governor I was finding it very hard to accept this as I’ve known my brother since he was young and this is totally not in his character, and I can’t believe that his mental health had deteriorated that much in four weeks for him to take his own life. And we see him all the time usually, so my mum is very upset because we think that if he’d been able to see his family it could have changed his mindset.
Nobody at all contacted us before he was taken to hospital and hardly anybody has contacted us since. We didn’t know any of that about the state of the prison until afterwards. It’s a disgrace.. Even now, nobody has come to explain anything to us. No Independent Monitoring Board, no Ombudsman, no governor. Nobody has been in touch.

FRFI: So now there will be an inquest and you have a solicitor for that, but prior to then, what do you want to tell people?

Morris: We want awareness. We want transparency. Where you have individuals suffering from mental health problems, if there’s any sign at all of their doing anything to themselves, let their loved ones know. A chaplain can get you on the phone to have a call with your family; they can arrange for private visits with family. They can do all these things but no one did anything.

Now we are trying to piece it all together, even to work out his whereabouts in the prison, where he was when he supposedly tried to take his life the first and second times. We want to be able to help people not have to go through this again. We know we’re not the first but the way they just came to my mum’s house, said this has happened to your son, and then everything is internal. There’s no respect and no accountability. The staff on the wing just ignore prisoners’ applications and complaints. And the governors cover up for them, so it goes all the way from the bottom to the top. The prison should be shut down and the governor should be sacked. That’s what we would like to see.

Nicki Jameson

For more on the Grant family’s fight for justice for Melvin, see @justiceformelv on Facebook or justice.4.mg on Instagram


FIGHT RACISM! FIGHT IMPERIALISM! 298 February/March 2024

 

Repressive laws target prisoners

Protesters demand IPP prisoners be given a definite release date

In the midst of deepening capitalist economic crisis and increased social unrest, the repressive apparatus of the state has become even more brutal and disregarding of even a semblance of basic human rights. Former life sentence prisoner JOHN BOWDEN reports on the Victims and Prisoners Bill, currently being debated in the House of Lords.

 

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Solidarity from Euskadi

On 27 October, Basque political prisoners held by the Spanish state refused food for the day in protest against the ‘genocidal policy carried out by this terrorist Zionist state, the massacres and horrors in Gaza that the whole world has been able to see in these past days’ and ‘in solidarity with the Palestinian people, and declaring the legitimacy of the right to defend oppressed peoples’.

FIGHT RACISM! FIGHT IMPERIALISM! 297 December 2023/January 2024

 

New Justice Secretary – same overcrowded prisons

On 16 October Justice Secretary Alex Chalk made a speech to Parliament setting out the government’s programme for prison sentencing in the coming period. This was echoed on 3 November in the King’s Speech, which included plans for a new Sentencing Bill. Chalk took over the post in April from the universally loathed Dominic Raab. Like all his predecessors over the past three decades, Chalk’s main remit is to show how ‘tough on crime’ his party is, by introducing measures to make prison sentences for the most serious crimes yet longer and harsher. However, at the same time, he faces the contradictory task of dealing with a prison system which is bursting at the seams, and therefore has to find ways to slow down the spiralling growth of the prison population. Nicki Jameson reports.

 

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End death by incarceration - Free Mumia now!

Mumia Abu Jamal, an award-winning author, journalist and political prisoner has been behind bars for 42 years. Known as the voice of the voiceless, he was framed for killing a policeman in 1981 in a trial drenched in racism. His real ‘crime’ is being unwaveringly outspoken against the oppressive capitalist system and imperialism. In Philadelphia, where Mumia is incarcerated, black people are detained at a rate nine times higher than white residents. Mumia was originally given a death sentence; in 2011 this was commuted to a life sentence without parole. Even off death row, his life remains in the balance with deteriorating chronic health issues and inadequate health care provisions.

 

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Palestinian prisoners fight repression

The machinery of repression that the Zionist state inflicts on the Palestinian people has always included arbitrary imprisonment. Alongside the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza since early October there has been a further increase in the already wide-scale detention of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, with nearly 1,700 arrests between 7 and 31 October. As FRFI goes to press, the sustained resistance in Gaza has resulted in 39 Palestinian women and children prisoners being released, with an agreement for Israel to release up to 150 in total in exchange for 50 people captured in Israel.

 

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The truth about the racist prison system

As Black History month arrives again and the prison rolls out its annual posters of Bob Marley, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King to show its support for its black population, I feel it is important to explain my reality as a black prisoner at HMP Lindholme – a prison which the Chief Inspector of Prisons stated in 2020 did not recognise the needs of black prisoners.

 

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Free Joe Outlaw! No to IPP!

On 23 September FRFI supporters and campaigners against joint enterprise (JENGbA) protested outside Belmarsh maximum security prison in South London to highlight the continuing legacy of the sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP).

 

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Spiralling sentences and punitive prisons

British prisons are in continuous crisis, as the rate of punishment outstrips the places available for incarceration. Despite an extensive and costly building programme, the system is still massively overcrowded, with the Prison Service having to borrow spare places from the police in order to warehouse some of those being locked up in ever greater numbers. Conditions within all prisons are appalling, and especially in the old and crumbling 19th century institutions. Use of pandemic-style lockdown measures persists. Nicki Jameson reports.

 

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Stop and search ‘a racialised weapon’

The government’s authoritarian drive continues with Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s instruction to police on 19 June to ‘ramp up’ the use of stop-and-search powers. These powers, which the Home Office’s own figures show are seven times more likely to be used against black people than against white people, enable police to stop and search anyone they have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect of carrying a weapon, drugs, stolen property, or anything that could be used to commit a crime. Braverman attempted to justify the disproportionate targeting of young black males with the fact that they are more likely than other groups to be victims of knife crime. In her message to all 43 police forces in England and Wales, she invoked the racist narrative of violent black culture by stating that her aim was ‘to keep the public safe’ from the ‘dangerous culture’ of carrying weapons, adding that she backed the police ‘in tackling this blight in communities which are disproportionately affected, such as among young black males’.

 

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No to IPP - support Joe Outlaw!

On 12 April 2023, prisoner Joe Outlaw staged a one-man protest on the roof of Strangeways prison in Manchester.

Joe is serving a sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP), imposed in 2011 for robbery. The IPP is a draconian indeterminate sentence with a short custodial minimum period followed by indefinite detention unless the Parole Board directs that someone is safe to be released. Many IPPs face the prospect of never being released, or of getting out only to be recalled for the smallest of misdemeanours. Joe wrote ‘FREE IPPZ’ on the prison roof and shouted down to those below that he was protesting against the unjust sentence.

 

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Support Kevan Thakrar: end solitary confinement!

In the last issue of FRFI, we reported on the recent judicial review brought by Kevan Thakrar against the Secretary of State for Justice in relation to his continued indefinite solitary confinement. The case was heard in the Royal Courts of Justice on 25 and 26 April, and over three months later, the judgment has not yet been handed down.

 

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Banged up on remand in racist Britain

The institutional racism of the British criminal justice system is now widely acknowledged. The police, courts and prisons continue to target and disproportionately criminalise working class, black and minority ethnic communities. Over a quarter (27%) of the overall prison population, 21,537 people, is now from minority ethnic communities, as opposed to 18% of the population as a whole.

 

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Cookham Wood: hell-hole for children

On 18 July, the prisons inspectorate published its report of an unannounced inspection of Cookham Wood, a prison which holds boys aged 15-17 years old.

The report is grim reading. The physical conditions of the prison are bad: ‘Living units were dirty, important equipment was broken and graffiti was rife.’ But most terrifying is the way in which the prisoners, vulnerable and traumatised children, are routinely treated by prison staff, whose only response to misbehaviour from those in their charge is prolonged isolation and the use of sadistic levels of violence.

 

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Defend the right to protest

Police in Parliament Square

Ahead of the Coronation on 6 May, the Metropolitan Police warned that ‘Our tolerance for any disruption, whether through protest or otherwise, will be low’. The Public Order Act 2023, rushed onto the statute books just three days ahead of the ceremony, allowed the Met to flex its new powers on the day by arresting dozens of peaceful protesters. These included six members of the anti-monarchy group Republic, who had naively believed months of cooperation and discussion with the police would protect them; three members of the night-safety campaign group, Night Stars, who had been handing out rape alarms to vulnerable women in central London, were also arrested. The ensuing furore forced the police to apologise to Republic, and a ‘review’ by MPs is promised. But this draconian legislation has achieved its aim of handing the police sweeping powers to criminalise all forms of meaningful protest. The ruling class is preparing to crush the working class resistance it knows will inevitably emerge as the crisis of capitalism deepens.

 

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Britain's ever-expanding prison system

HMP Hull

Britain currently imprisons a higher proportion of its population than any other country in Western Europe. As of January 2023, 136 people per 100,000 were in prison in England and Wales, and 134 per 100,000 in Scotland. At the end of 2022, the total UK prison population (including the north of Ireland) stood at 81,806. The government plans to increase this still further and for the prison population to exceed 100,000 by the middle of the current decade. JOHN BOWDEN reports.

 

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Challenging solitary confinement

Demonstration in support of Kevan Thakrar at the Royal Courts of Justice, London 24 April 2023

Supporters of Kevan Thakrar gathered at the High Court on 25 and 26 April to express solidarity with his struggle against the oppression that he and others face in prison. Kevan was bringing a challenge against his placement in the segregation unit of Belmarsh prison, effectively in solitary confinement, where he is held in his cell for 23 hours a day, with no contact with other prisoners, limited access to a small walled exercise yard and no access to education, gym, work or religious services. 

 

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Institutional racism in British prisons

HMP Lindholme

In 2019 I was sentenced to an eight year determinate prison term for breaches of family court orders. During my time in HMP Lindholme I became aware of the Lammy Report and the prison’s failure to implement recommendations aimed at preventing abuse of the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) system. However, it wasn’t until the Baroness Casey report into the Met Police after the tragic murder of Sarah Everard and its claim that the Met police was not only institutionally homophobic and misogynist but also institutionally racist that I was inspired to speak out on the point that the Prison Service is no less institutionally racist than the police. 

 

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Ely ‘riots’ as police accused of causing fatal crash

Young people in Ely, Cardiff confront riot police in their neighbourhood

On the night of Monday 22 May South Wales Police faced the fiery wrath of the youth of Ely, one of Cardiff’s most deprived areas. Hours before two young members of their community, Harvey Evans and Kyrees Sullivan, aged 15 and 16, died when the electric bike they were riding crashed with a vehicle, after being chased by a police van. The police systematically lied, denying being anywhere near the boys until CCTV footage revealed a police vehicle following the bike just three minutes before the crash. Eyewitnesses told the media the police van had been travelling towards the boys ‘at speed’, and local people said police seemed to have a particular grudge against young people using e-bikes in the area.

 

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Prison abolition and the struggle against capitalism

Abolition Revolution by Aviah Sarah Day and Shanice Octavia McBean

Abolition Revolution, Aviah Sarah Day and Shanice Octavia McBean, Pluto Press, 2022, £14.99

The 2020 police murder of George Floyd and growth of the subsequent massive Black Lives Matter movement internationally have led to much discussion around the questions of ‘defunding the police’ and ‘abolition’ of the machinery of imprisonment. We asked former long-term prisoner and FRFI contributor JOHN BOWDEN to review Abolition Revolution. JOHN writes:

Before the events of 2020, the politics of prison abolition had been totally marginalised and cast into a utopian wilderness. Abolition Revolution is an important contribution to re-establishing the discussion.

 

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CPS agrees to monitor data on joint enterprise convictions after legal challenge from JENGbA campaigners

Research suggests people of colour, particularly young Black men, are disproportionately targeted by Joint Enterprise, but neither the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) nor the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) recorded this data before campaign group Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA) took legal action against the CPS and MOJ. JENGbA campaigner JAN CUNLIFFE reports.

 

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British police: rotten to the core

On 22 March, Baroness Louise Casey published an excoriating review of the Metropolitan Police. Gone is any pretence that the most recent examples of police criminality, corruption and abuse can be dismissed as the individual acts of a few ‘bad apples’. Rather, she concludes, the entire force is riddled with institutional racism, misogyny and homophobia on a scale that is ‘off the radar’. Trust in the police among Londoners, in particular young black Londoners, is at an all-time low. ‘Policing by consent’, that hallowed mantra of bourgeois democracy, is ‘fundamentally broken’. None of the findings will come as any surprise to those sections of the working class, and in particular black, Asian and Irish men and women, who have historically borne the brunt of police brutality, nor indeed to FRFI which has exposed the Met’s activities for decades. But what such a scathing and high-profile indictment of Britain’s largest police force does reveal is the huge disquiet building within the ruling class about how to manage the fallout from the most toxic revelations about the Met’s practices in recent years. CAT WIENER and SEAMUS O’ TUAIRISC report.

 

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