Marian Price’s release is a human rights issue

Sir,

We are fast approaching the first anniversary of the imprisonment without trial of Marian Price. On this bleak occasion, the Prisons Crisis Group calls on all who believe in the most basic tenets of justice to redouble their efforts to win her release.

We appeal, too, for support for Martin Corey, also imprisoned on the order of Secretary of State Owen Patterson. His licence from a life sentence was revoked by Mr Patterson on the basis of information which has not been divulged and which Martin cannot therefore attempt to refute. This is unfair and unjust.

The Prisons Crisis Group was founded last July at a meeting in Derry attended by more than 100 people and chaired by Bernadette McAliskey. As well as highlighting individual cases, we wanted to draw attention to the appalling conditions in Maghaberry, where republican prisoners felt they had no option but to go on a ‘dirty’ protest in their campaign against strip-searching and abuse. This situation has not been resolved. The prisoners are still subject to a regime which cannot be explained on security grounds but which must be motivated by malice and spite.

It is important that the Maghaberry prisoners are not forgotten. Attempts by trades unionists and community leaders to broker a compromise settlement have so far foundered on the rock of the prison authorities’ intransigence. This must not be allowed to go unchallenged.

We renew our call for an end to strip-searching in Maghaberry and the inauguration of a system which would acknowledge the humanity of the prisoners. We ask politicians and all people of good will to raise their voices not necessarily in support of the prisoners’ politics but simply in support of their human rights.

The case of Marian Price is obviously particularly urgent. She is in poor health. The circumstances surrounding Mr Patterson’s decision to have her jailed are outrageous. Marian was granted a full pardon in 1980. No politician, no matter how exalted, has the authority to revoke a pardon. But the Northern Ireland Office claims that there was only one copy of the document which certified her pardon - and that this copy has either been lost or shredded. Their argument is that since it cannot be proved that they don’t have a right to put her in prison, they are entitled to assume that they do have this right. At one level, this is laughable. At any level, it is cynical, dishonest, disgraceful and shouldn’t be tolerated.

We don’t believe them for a minute when they say they cannot locate a copy of the pardon document, and we don’t think many others do either. Bluntly, the NIO is lying. The Prison Crisis Group will be working with others to see to it that this scandalous abuse of power by Owen Patterson is brought to the earliest possible end.

We will redouble our efforts to spread knowledge of Marian’s case. Our members instigated a recent very successful meeting in New York at which Bernadette McAliskey spoke by video. Further action is planned in the United States in the next few weeks.

We were also successful in having Marian’s case highlighted at the Global Women’s Strike demonstration in London last week, called to support of a number of women prisoners around the world. This has already helped ensure that Marian’s case will be included along with cases of injustice to women prisoners in various countries in international campaigns over the next year.

We very much hope that Marian will be freed long before another year passes. We realise that, while international action is important, what matters most is campaigning on the ground here. We will be on the streets at weekends collecting petitions and will be holding a number of fund-raisers to defray the expenses of sending speakers to Britain over the next few months. We ask for support for these activities too.

Many of us had hoped that by now there would be no need by for prison campaigns of this sort. Sadly, the need is still there. We appeal to the public to support all groups and individuals working to speed the day when Marian Price can return to her family.

Yours,

Jim Doherty,

Prison Crisis Group, Derry