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Articles from the Peace News log: Prison

Articles from the Peace News log.
For articles in this category from the whole site, look here

ImageWrite to people imprisoned because of their actions for peace

1 December is Prisoners for Peace Day. For over 60 years, War Resisters’ International have publicised the names and stories – and prison addresses – of those imprisoned because of their actions for peace. This is a chance to write to someone whose freedom has been taken away because of their work for peace. 

We can find the prison address for Julian Assange here – please do write to him as he is waiting for the verdict in his extradition trial, due on 4 January. In his written evidence to the trial, Noam Chomsky wrote: ‘In my view, Julian Assange, in courageously upholding political beliefs that most of us profess to share, has performed an enormous service to all the people in the world who treasure the values of freedom and democracy and who therefore demand the right to know what their elected representatives are doing. His actions in turn have led him to be pursued in a cruel and intolerable manner.’

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'Our fear and isolation from each other, aiming to get a step up above our neighbours, our reluctance to live in a shared world, may be worse than the other storms we face.' Long-time US peace activist Kathy Kelly writes from inside prison.

Lightning flashed across Kentucky skies a few nights ago. 'I love storms,' said my roommate, Gypsi, her eyes bright with excitement. Thunder boomed over the Kentucky hills and Atwood Hall, here in Lexington, Kentucky's federal prison. I fell asleep thinking of the gentle, haunting song our gospel choir sings: 'It's over now, It's over now. I think that I can make it. The storm is over now.'

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Carol Fox on the background to Margaretta D’Arcy's latest imprisonment ...

ImageOn Wednesday, January 15th, 79-year old Margaretta D’Arcy, writer, member of Aosdana which honours outstanding contributors to the arts in Ireland,  and widow of the late playwright John Arden, answered a knock on the door of her small Galway City terraced house. It was the Irish police. She was arrested and ferried by squad car to Limerick Prison to serve a three month sentence. Her crime: failure to sign a bond pledging to no longer trespass onto unauthorised areas of Shannon Airport.

Margaretta D’Arcy has been arrested twice for sitting on the runway at Shannon. Her first trial in December at Ennis District Court in Clare, found her and her co-defendant, Niall Farrell, guilty of interfering with the ‘proper’ use of Shannon Airport. Their second trial – the same charge,  – will probably be held next month. The defendants’ main argument is that Shannon Airport is not being ‘properly used’. It is supposed to be a civilian airport, yet it is being transited by US warplanes, military cargo and troop carriers as well as by planes implicated in the infamous ‘rendition’ flights, involving the kidnapping and transporting of people to secret detention centres for ‘interrogation’. Opinion polls have consistently shown that the vast majority of Irish people are opposed to Shannon being used by the US military.

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A thirteen-day prison sentence poses an odd problem for peace campaigner Maya Evans and her supporters.

Up betimes at 5.30am, to catch the 6.08am tube to Vauxhall and thence the 6.32am overland train, arriving at Ashford (Surrey) station at 7.03am. From there, a short walk brought me to Her Majesty’s Prison Bronzefield.

I’d been there once before - to see Susan Clarkson out of jail - and the reception assured me that Maya would be released shortly. They were just dealing with her property.

So began a chilly wait outside in a strong wind – positioned far enough from the main entrance not to freak out the prison authorities.

At first I tried reading Andrew Cornell’s excellent little book on the Movement for a New Society - a radical, nonviolent US group, active in the 70s and 80s - but before long my hands were too cold to hold it, and I fell back on listening to Hubert Dreyfus’ equally wonderful – but very different – lectures on Existentialism in Literature and Film on my mp3 player, hands thrust deeply into my coat pockets.

Struggling to get my head round the notions of lower and higher immediacy whilst reducing the wind chill to an absolute minimum (neither an easy job without a hat), I hadn’t spotted the approach of Martin Birdseye, anti-nuclear activist extraordinaire. Formerly an engineer, he’d cycled 8 miles against the wind to be there.

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Gabriel Carlyle reports on the jailing of Hastings anti-war activist Maya Evans.


At 9.15am, I was the first one to arrive at the Court.

Maya had told us that she'd been asked to get there for 9.30am. At 9.35am there was still no sign of her, though veteran peace activist John Lynes showed up with some home-made "rollable" banners, which we proceeded to display outside the court, much to the bemusement of the local citizenry.

"Thank you Maya for speaking out bravely for victims of war in Afghanistan" read one of them. "I don't know even who that is", one woman told us as she wheezed her way up the steps and into the court, not pausing to find out.

Maya had been ordered to appear regarding the non-payment of £355 in fines and costs dating back to a 2009 court case. In November of that year, at a two-day trial at Watford Magistrates Court, six of us had been tried and found guilty of "obstructing the highway" for our role in a demonstration outside Britain's military HQ at Northwood.

Since then the whole process had dragged out interminably, with three of us serving brief spells in police custody for failing to make a pointless trip to Watford (we'd all written to the court, asking for the case to transferred to our local areas), and several of us had faced repeated attempts by bailiffs (only one of them successful!) to seize our property.

In December 2011, Maya had appeared in court again and this time was sentenced to 2 weeks imprisonment, suspended so long as she paid the court £5 a week. As she was about to travel to Afghanistan with Voices for Creative Nonviolence [LINK: http://peacenews.info/node/6515/maya-evans-returns-first-british-peace-delegation-afghanistan] she paid the fine for the first couple of weeks (to ensure that she wouldn't be arrested before she left) and then stopped.

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PFC Bradley Manning has been in a maximum-security prison in Virginia, USA for the past eight months after being accused of leaking classified information to WikiLeaks. This information includes the “Collateral Murder” video, which depicts a 2007 US helicopter attack in Iraq that killed 12 people. Manning has been in solitary confinement and under constant surveillance although he has not yet been tried or convicted of his crimes.

Manning is being held in the Quantico Confinement Facility under inhumane conditions. He spends every day in a 12’ x 6’ cell and he is only allowed out for one hour a day, which he spends exercising by walking around another room. He has no sheets, no pillows, and no personal items in his cell, and he has very little contact with the outside world. In December, Manning spent his 23rd birthday alone due to the harsh terms of his visiting hours.

These conditions have contributed to a decline in Manning’s physical and mental health. Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, has said that Manning’s living conditions are abusive, and the UN has begun investigating Manning’s treatment on the grounds that it may amount to torture.

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Follow-up piece to Virginia’s earlier post

Chris Cole outside Wandsworth Jail

Christian peace activist Chris Cole was released from HMP Wandsworth this morning after serving 15 days for an act of civil disobedience.

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Virginia Moffatt reflects on having a partner imprisoned

To all intents and purposes, last Wednesday was a normal day. I dropped my husband, Chris Cole, in Headington and watched him walk away in the darkness to the London bus, as I often do. Then I  headed back home for the usual morning routine of breakfast, sandwich making, and the school run.

But last Wednesday was different in one respect. For the second time in four years, Chris was returning to Westminster Magistrates to “wilfully refuse” to pay a fine he’d incurred during  an anti-arms trade protest. In September 2009, he’d taken a can of spray paint, and left messages of peace on the entrance to the opening conference of the Defence Services Export International Exhibition (DSEI). After a year of dodging bailiffs and arrest warrants, we knew this would inevitably lead to a prison sentence, and by lunchtime he’d been sentenced to 30 days (hopefully out in 15) and off to Wandsworth Prison. (Chris has written some excellent pre-prison reflections here)

Six days later, and although we’ve received a lovely chatty letter, he hasn’t managed to call.  This is the longest period of time that we haven’t spoken to each other since we’ve been together. I know from last time, that part of the frustration of having my partner inside is being at the mercy of the prison system. He’s probably written  several more letters, but they are buried somewhere in a postroom. He may not have received ours. It’s possible that he’s been locked up 24/7 and hasn’t been able to get to a phone, or he hasn’t got his pin number, or the queues have been too long. It’s best not to speculate, or sit around waiting for the phone to ring.  But I am so used to Chris being there throughout the day to share domestic tasks, silly jokes, work problems, that his absence is everywhere.

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