On the Mass Political Movement Inside US Prisons

Pelican Bay Hunger Strike: Four years and still fighting

July 14, 2015, SF Bayview Newspaper

by Claude Marks and Isaac Ontiveros

Four years ago prisoners in California – led by those in the control units of Pelican Bay – organized a hunger strike to demand an end to the torturous conditions of solitary confinement. Two more strikes would follow, with over 30,000 prisoners taking united action in the summer of 2013 – both in isolation and in general population in nearly every California prison.

“Will You Stand Up and Let Your Voice Be Heard July 8th 2013?” – Art: Michael D. Russell

The strikes reflected significant shifts in political consciousness among prisoners and their loved ones. The violence of imprisonment was further exposed by demands and heightened organization from within the cages. Prisoner-led collective actions as well as growing public support dramatically have changed the political landscape.

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Solidarity Network: “ALL OUT FOR CALIFORNIA PRISONER HUNGER STRIKE 2013”

California prisoners started a hunger strike and work actions today for basic human rights.
Support their demands – join us for a demonstration at Corcoran Saturday – July 13th!
Check out this new video!

Edited by Lucas Guilkey & Nicole Deane
Music: Fatgums ‘Kill the Vultures” & The Coup ‘My Favorite Mutiny’
 Published on Jul 8, 2013

JULY 13TH RALLY AT CORCORAN

SIGN THE PLEDGE OF RESISTANCE and become part of the EMERGENCY RESPONSE NETWORK

SIGN THE PETITION TO GOVERNOR BROWN

MORE INFORMATION: http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com

In 2011, over 12,000 prisoners and their family and community members participated in statewide hunger strikes protesting the inhumane conditions in California’s Security Housing Units (SHU or solitary confinement). California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation promised meaningful reform as a result of those protests, but nothing meaningful has reached the people living in these cages. Prisoners have announced another hunger strike will begin July 8th because of CDCR’s failure to fulfill that promise. Continue reading

California prison officials say 30,000 inmates refuse meals

By Paige St. John, Los Angeles Times, July 8, 2013

California officials Monday said 30,000 inmates refused meals at the start of what could be the largest prison protest in state history.

Inmates in two-thirds of the state’s 33 prisons, and at all four out-of-state private prisons, refused both breakfast and lunch on Monday, said corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton. In addition, 2,300 prisoners failed to go to work or attend their prison classes, either refusing or in some cases saying they were sick.

The corrections department will not acknowledge a hunger strike until inmates have missed nine consecutive meals. Even so, Thornton said, Monday’s numbers are far larger than those California saw two years earlier during a series of hunger strikes that drew international attention.

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Israel’s dirty war

[Repressive ethnic wars, designed for mass displacement and elimination, are characterized by their indiscriminate targeting and by their use of weapons which combine their military purposes with malevolent political objectives of humiliation, de-humanization through inducing disease and transforming verdant lands into toxic wastes.  Here is a report on recent Israeli (and Egyptian) attack methods against Palestine.  — Frontlines ed.]
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David Polden, Peace News

While Palestinian prisoners continue hunger strikes against their detention without trial, Israeli and Egyptian forces are using sewage against Palestinians.

Ayman Sharawna (PN 2552-53), hospitalised after a seven-month hunger strike, has agreed to confinement in Gaza for 10 years in return for his release. However, Samer Issawi, 240 days into his hunger strike, announced on 18 March that he had refused a similar deal.

Middle East News reported that, on 6 March, Israeli forces sprayed Palestinian homes in the village of Nabi Saleh with raw sewage as a punishment for organising weekly protests against the ‘separation wall’.

Since February, Egyptian security forces have been flooding tunnels into Gaza with sewage. The tunnels, which are illegal, are a vital trade route for Gaza, breaching the Israeli blockade.

The Palestinian Prisoner’s Intifada

A Leap of Faith Toward Freedom
by RAMZY BAROUD, Counterpunch

If Palestinian leaders only knew how extraneous their endless rounds of “unity” talks have become, they might cease their enthusiastic declarations to world media about yet another scheduled meeting or another. At this point, few Palestinians have hope that their “leadership” has their best interests in mind. Factional interests reign supreme and personal agendas continue to define Palestine’s political landscape.

Fatah and Hamas are the two major Palestinian political factions. Despite Hamas’s election victory in 2006, Fatah is the chief contender. Both parties continue to play the numbers game, flexing their muscles in frivolous rallies where Palestinian flags are overshadowed with green and yellow banners, symbols of Hamas and Fatah respectively.

Historically there has been a leadership deficit in Palestine and it is not because Palestinians are incapable of producing upright men and women capable of guiding the decades-long resistance towards astounding victory against military occupation and apartheid. It is because for a Palestinian leadership to be acknowledged as such by regional and international players, it has to excel in the art of “compromise”. These carefully molded leaders often cater to the interests of their Arab and Western benefactors, at the expense of their own people. Not one single popular faction has resolutely escaped this seeming generalization.

This reality has permeated Palestinian politics for decades. However, in the last two decades the distance between the Palestinian leadership and the people has grown by a once unimaginable distance, where the Palestinian has become a jailor and a peddling politician or a security coordinator working hand in hand with Israel. The perks of the Oslo culture have sprouted over the years creating the Palestinian elite, whose interest and that of the Israeli occupation overlap beyond recognition of where the first starts and the other ends. Continue reading

BBC silent on the hunger strike of thousands of Palestinian political prisoners

BBC challenged for ignoring plight of Palestinian prisoners

Glasgow, 25 April 2012
Woman displays portrait of loved one in Israeli prison

Palestinian political prisoners are on mass hunger strike but you’d never know it from watching the BBC.

(Mohammed Asad / APA images)

“I had no idea. How could I not have known?”

I heard those words on Palestinian Prisoners’ Day (17 April) from a teacher, shocked at discovering how Israel abducts, abuses and imprisons Palestinian children — some as young as 12 — in the West Bank because they may or may not have thrown stones at Israel’s wall.

She had tagged along with a friend to a talk given in London by Gerard Horton of Defence for Children International–Palestine Section, and until that moment had been unaware of the brutalities of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Horton’s lecture focused on a new DCI-Palestine report which documents the various traumas Palestinian children regularly face during Israeli military detention (“Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted: Children held in military detention,” 14 April 2012).

The answer to her question is fairly simple: this woman — a member of the educated, professional middle-classes — did not know because she relies on the mainstream media, led by the BBC, for her news. And that media’s silence on the realities of Israel’s occupation is deafening.

Last week, 1,200 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails began an open-ended hunger strike in protest at the illegalities and injustices of their incarceration. Another 2,300 refused food for the duration of Palestinian Prisoners’ Day. Their action came just weeks after Khader Adnan ended his 66-day hunger strike and Hana al-Shalabi was released (though banished to Gaza) after refusing food for 43 days, both protesting at Israel’s use of administrative detention against them. Continue reading

Guantánamo Prisoners Stage Peaceful Protest and Hunger Strike on 10th Anniversary of the Opening of the Prison

10.1.12

by Andy Worthington

Today, prisoners at Guantánamo will embark on a peaceful protest, involving sit-ins and hunger strikes, to protest about their continued detention, and the continued existence of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, three years after President Obama came to office promising to close it within a year, and to show their appreciation of the protests being mounted on their behalf  by US citizens, who are gathering in Washington D.C. on Wednesday to stage a rally and march to urge the President to fulfill his broken promise.

Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York, and one of the attorneys for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, said that his client, who is held in isolation in Camp 5, told him on his last visit that the prisoners would embark on a peaceful protest and hunger strike for three days, from Jan. 10 to 12, to protest about the President’s failure to close Guantánamo as promised.

He explained that the men intended to inform the Officer in Charge ahead of the protest, to let the authorities know why there would be protests, and added that the prisoners were encouraged by the “expression of solidarity” from US citizens planning protests on Jan. 11, the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison.

Kassem also said that another of his clients, in Camp 6, where most of the prisoners are held, and where, unlike Camp 5, they are allowed to socialize, stated that prisoners throughout the blocks were “extremely encouraged” by reports of the protests in Washington D.C.

The prisoner, who does not wish to be identified, also said that banners and signs had been prepared, and that there would be peaceful sit-ins in the communal areas. He added that the prisoners were concerned to let the outside world know that they still reject the injustice of their imprisonment, and feel that it is particularly important to let everyone know this, when the US government, under President Obama, is trying to persuade the world that “everything is OK” at Guantánamo, and that the prison is a humane, state of the art facility. Continue reading

The California Hunger Strike: Repression, Resistance, the US Prison System, and Political Imprisonment in India

An Introduction by Partho Sarathi Ray, Sanhati

The demand for the release of political prisoners is a major demand of democratic movements in India now, and the condition of prisoners in jail a major cause for concern. The case of Binayak Sen had brought the issue of political prisoners into focus, but there are thousands like him languishing in jails, including people like Jiten Marandi who have been sentenced to death.

The situation has parallels to the USA, which has the largest prison population ratio to the total population in the world, and has political prisoners who have been in jail for more than thirty years, from the time when the Black population of the US stood up in struggle for their rights. In the following article, the author Isaac Ontiveros of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Condition writes about the recent historic hunger strike by prisoners in California prisons, which had focused attention on the US prison system and the condition of prisoners therein. This hunger strike, which at one point had 12000 participants throughout the California prison system, exposed the inherent repression, maltreatment and misery of the prisoners in the US prisons and became a symbol of resistance against these.

prisonerindia.jpg

In India, over the last one year there have been many hunger strikes in prisons, led mostly by political prisoners in various jails, although they have never received any media attention as the hunger strike by Anna Hazare did. As the aggression by the Indian state against its own people continues, and as resistance builds against it, India has come to have one of the largest political prisoner populations. Draconian central laws such as the UAPA, and various state laws have been used to incarcerate a large number of political activists in various jails [for example, this letter from the incarcerated Chhatradhar Mahato, from Midnapur jail in West Bengal, details the inhuman condition of political prisoners there and the resistance]. Together with these, application of various sections of the Criminal Penal Code (CrPC) has resulted in a large number of cases, in most instances false, against people who have resisted or protested in any form against the aggression by the state or corporations. And just as the US prison population has a disproportionately large number of African-Americans and Hispanic people, who form the most downtrodden and marginalized sections of the American population, the political prisoner population in Indian jails has a disproportionately high number of adivasis and dalits, who have borne the brunt of the repressive state policies.

For example, amongst the 250 odd political prisoners in Midnapore central jail, around 240 are adivasis of all ages and gender. The political prisoners have gone on hunger strike a number of times in jails in West Bengal, demanding better treatment and better facilities for all prisoners, and for the recognition of their status as political prisoners. Even that has been hard to come by, both during the previous Left Front regime and the new Trinamool Congress government which had promised to release the political prisoners before the polls.

Currently, more than 800 under-trial prisoners in Presidency, Alipur and Dum Dum jails in Kolkata are in the fifteenth day of a hunger strike demanding speedier disposal of their cases and better conditions in prisons. This week, the hunger strike spread to Medinipur and Krishnanagar jails, with the political prisoners and other prisoners in these jails joining the hunger strike in solidarity with the prisoners in the Kolkata jails. As of now, more than 1500 prisoners are on a prolonged hunger strike in West Bengal.

As the struggle for the release of political prisoners continues to build up in India, this article gives us a glimpse of the resistance by US prisoners and reminds us about the need of international solidarity to bring the issue of political prisoners to the fore.

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November 21, 2011

By Isaac Ontiveros.

The author works on the media committee of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition.

The California Hunger Strike: Repression, Resistance, and the US Prison System

This past summer, at least 6,600—probably many more—prisoners in the US state of California’s prison system went on hunger strike. After more than 20 days, prisoners suspended their strike when prison administration was forced to respond. Then, in late September, because repression had increased, and there was no movement on their demands–and reprisals were targeted against those labeled as strike leaders, the prisoners resumed their strike. The second round of striking, which lasted nearly three weeks, at one point had at least 12,000 participants throughout California. Both waves of the strike were initiated in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) of the notorious Pelican Bay State Prison.

SHUs are some the highest security facilities in the United States—often referred to as “prisons within prisons.” Prisoners are kept in solitary confinement for 22 hours a day in eight by ten feet cells made of smooth concrete that have no windows. Fluorescent lights can be kept on 24 hours per day. Armed guards control entrances and exits electronically and are strategically located to be able to fire on prisoners at any time. The average amount of time a prisoner spends in the Pelican Bay SHU is 6 ½ years, while some have been held for over 20. Around 4,000 prisoners in California are held in SHUs. Nationally, it is estimated that 80,000 people are held in some form of solitary confinement. Many organizations internationally have condemned SHUs and other solitary confinement facilities as torture. In California and elsewhere, prison administrators claim that prisoners are kept in these special units because they are high level gang shot-callers, yet many have pointed out that, in fact, the SHUs are often used to break up organizing for prisoner’s rights. Continue reading

Palestine: Five Wounded, Four Arrested in West Bank Protests in Solidarity with Hunger-Striking Prisoners

PNN
October 8, 2011
Weekly protests erupted around the West Bank on Friday, resulting in two injuries and the arrests of at least three Palestinians and one German solidarity activist. Demonstrations were held in solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners entering their eleventh day of hunger strikes in Israeli prisons.
In the southern West Bank village of al-Walajeh, a few kilometers west of Bethlehem, Israeli soldiers shot tear gas canisters to suppress a demonstration of about 50 people, mostly youths. Hosam Odah, Mohammed al-Jawarish, and Hamzah Sarasreh, ages unknown, were arrested as well as German solidarity activist Amr Mohammed.
In nearby al-Ma’sara village, two Palestinians named Mahmoud Ala’adin and Mahmoud Zawahireh were injured when Israeli soldiers suppressed a protest. Their injuries were described as “moderate.”
In the central West Bank village of Bil’in, popular committee media coordinator Ratib Abu Rahma said that the Israeli army shot tear gas canisters, sound bombs, and rubber bullets at demonstrating Palestinians. He explained that dozens of Palestinians suffered from “severe tear gas inhalation,” including Palestine TV cameraman Ali Dar Ali and photographer Mohammed Radi.
Violent clashes were also reported in the central West Bank village of al-Nabi Saleh, where three Palestinians were hit by Israeli tear gas canisters. Reporters claimed that in violation of Israeli army open-fire regulations, soldiers fired the canisters directly at protestors instead of over their heads.
Palestinian prisoners in Israeli military prisons have been refusing to eat since September 27 in protest of worsening prison conditions. The strike includes at least 500 people as of Friday, about 7% of the 7,500 total prisoners. It was called after Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu authorized a tightening of prison restrictions designed to force the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas in Gaza since 2006.

India: What’s in a name? The demand for political prisoner status

Wednesday, 09 June 2010

Radha D’Souza

On 11 April 2010, 469 inmates in Alipore Central Jail in Kolkotta (Calcutta) in West Bengal went on hunger strike, demanding recognition as political prisoners. The previous April, two prisoners in the district of Cooch Behar went on a fast to demand political status. On 14 September 2009 an unspecified number of inmates in Nagpur, the second capital of the state of Maharashtra in western India, went on a one-day hunger strike to demand political prisoner status.

What’s in a name? One might ask. It is one thing to ask for fair trial, injunctions against torture and such, but why this insistence on labels – ‘P’ for political, ‘C’ for criminal? Political status does not automatically lead to any special privileges or concessions other than the things civil liberties groups demand for all prisoners: fair and expeditious trial, humane treatment, prohibition of physical and sexual torture, and an end to graft. Yet the very resilience of this demand for categorisation indicates its importance for the civil liberties and democratic rights movements in India today. Continue reading