Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP/File
The National Lawyers Guild affirms its strongest support for hunger striking prisoners in California, Guantánamo Bay, Colombia, and Palestine, and urges members and supporters to participate in and defend actions of solidarity protesting solitary confinement, arbitrary detention, and other rights violations. The Guild’s Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Committee calls on people to take action to support the prisoners:
- Calling California prison officials and demanding an end to retaliation against strike organizers: http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/pledge-of-resistance-emergency-alert/
- Calling Governor Jerry Brown to support the strikers' demands: http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/monday-july-15-call-the-governor/
- Signing the petition posted by family members, with close to 84,000 signatures at the time of this statement: http://www.change.org/petitions/gov-jerry-brown-stop-indefinite-solitary-confinement-in-security-housing-units
Refer to the Alliance for Global Justice website for updates and action alerts on Colombian prisoner rights and other social movements: http://afgj.org
California Prison Hunger Strike
Prisoners in California are entering their fifth week of hunger strike, which began on July 8 with 30,000 prisoners collectively protesting long-term solitary confinement and isolation. Since then, prison hunger strike leaders have suffered retaliation, been placed in administrative segregation and denied visits with their attorneys. The 2013 strike comes on the heels of a 2011 hunger strike with many of the same demands; the earlier strike ended when reforms were promised. Two years later, however, the improvements have yet to come and isolation has remained a standard practice in California prisons. At least one striking prisoner, Billy Guero ‘ Sell, has died at Corcoran State Prison Security Housing Unit (SHU) – although prison officials claim his death was a suicide.
The striking prisoners have five core demands:
- End group punishment and administrative abuse
- Abolish the debriefing policy, and modify in/active gang status criteria
- Comply with the U.S. Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 Recommendations Regarding an End to Long-Term Solitary Confinement
- Provide adequate and nutritious food
- Expand and provide constructive programming and privileges for indefinite SHU status inmates
Prolonged solitary confinement is a form of torture, with devastating physical and psychological effects. It violates the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as well as international law. In August 2011, Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, concluded that 15 days in solitary confinement constitutes torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. Over 500 prisoners in Pelican Bay's Special Housing Unit—where the hunger strikes originated—have been held in solitary confinement for over 10 years, many for two to three decades. One factor contributing to isolating inmates semi-permanently is the labeling of people in prison as “gang members.” Over 2.4 million people are imprisoned in the U.S., far more per capita than any other country in the world; one out of every eight black men in their twenties is imprisoned. Hunger striking continues to be a powerful practice building upon generations of prisoners' resistance, which in turn helps others to stand up to repression. Just as the Guild supported past struggles of prisoners who resisted and rebelled against injustice, racism, brutality, torture, and the prison industrial complex, it is incumbent upon us now to support the striking prisoners in California.
Solidarity from Pelican Bay to Guantánamo Bay; Colombia to Palestine
As prisoners in California continue to be on hunger strike, at least 96 out of the 166 —and likely more—men held at Guantánamo Bay are on hunger strike. 86 of them have been cleared for release, some for years. 46 more are slated for indefinite detention, without charge or trial. They have been subjected to repeated raids, solitary confinement, inspection of Qu'rans, and genital searches when attending counsel visits—a measure that has sharply curtailed attorney access. They are striking to end these violations, as well as to end their indefinite detention. Many of the Guantánamo prisoners have suffered different forms of torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment for well over a decade, including waterboarding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and sexual abuse.
Hunger striking prisoners at Guantánamo have been subjected to mass force feeding through nasogastric tubes, a practice that has been widely condemned (including by the American Medical Association) and recognized as cruel, inhumane, and amounting to torture. In a bitterly cruel addendum, the military has announced that during the month of Ramadan, it waits until after sunset before beginning the torturous procedure. The Center for Constitutional Rights has laid out a series of actions to support the men at Guantánamo: http://ccrjustice.org/closegitmo/solidarity
Colombian prisoners of the Doña Juana prison located in La Dorada, Caldas, Colombia have engaged in a civil disobedience campaign and hunger strike since July 8, 2013 to protest the lack of adequate health care and sanitation, overcrowding, beatings and torture. Colombia has a population of over 9,500 political prisoners, and a burgeoning prison population facilitated by the United States, which gives the country technical advice and monetary aid for prison construction.
The strike is to protest failure to comply with prior agreements made by the Colombian government back in April of this year. As of July 31, it appears that there is an agreement with the Colombian government for a suspension of the protests as the government has promised to immediately contract two full-time medical personnel and attend to all medical complaints of the prisoners. The Colombian government has also agreed to investigate the deaths of three prisoners who died as a result of medical neglect.
There are over 5,200 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including over 150 administrative detainees held without charge or trial. Those who have been tried were convicted in military courts with a 99.74% conviction rate, and 40% of Palestinian men in the West Bank and Gaza have spent time in Israeli occupation prisons.
In April 2012, thousands of Palestinians in Israeli prisons engaged in a mass hunger strike demanding an end to isolation and solitary confinement. Many administrative detainees have gone on hunger strike to demand an end to their detention without charge, while former prisoners re-arrested for family visits or allegedly leaving their cities engaged in long-term hunger strikes that have built broad international solidarity and forced their release.
Five additional Palestinian prisoners with Jordanian nationality were on hunger strike since May 2. An end to the strike was announced on May 11, after Israeli concessions that allow them to receive family visits, which they had been denied for long periods - up to 15 years. There are reports that one of the men is still striking. For updates, visit Addameer (addameer.org), a Palestinian organization that defends prisoners' human rights, and Samidoun: Palestinian Solidarity Network (samidoun.ca).
The National Lawyers Guild urges action aimed at ending solitary confinement, arbitrary detention and other human rights violations. For more information, contact: