End the torture of Marian Price

December 6, 2011

Sandy Boyer, the co-host of Radio Free Eireann on WBAI in New York City, reports on the unjust imprisonment of Northern Ireland political prisoner Marian Price.

MARIAN PRICE is the only woman political prisoner in Northern Ireland. She has been in continuous solitary confinement, except for three visits a week from relatives, since her arrest in May.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, called for the abolition of solitary confinement in an October 18 report to the UN's Third Committee. "Considering the severe mental pain or suffering solitary confinement may cause, it can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."

He called for a total prohibition on solitary confinement for more than 15 days. As this is being written, Marian Price has been in solitary confinement for more than 7 months.

She has been charged twice under Northern Ireland's special security laws. Each time she was released on bail.

Each time Owen Patterson, the secretary of State for Northern Ireland who was appointed by the British Prime Minister, overruled the judge and ordered her back to prison. He said that he was revoking her license (parole). This means that Marian Price is being interned without a charge, trial or release date.

In May, she was charged with "encouraging support for an illegal organization" after she held up a piece of paper from which a masked man read a statement. Perhaps only in Northern Ireland could holding a piece of paper be a crime.

Then, in July, she was charged with "providing property for the purposes of terrorism." The allegation was that she gave a cell phone to someone who participated in the killing of two British soldiers.

She was questioned about the killings and released 18 months before she was charged. Her lawyer, Peter Corrigan, told the BBC that there was no new evidence against her. Many saw this as an attempt to discredit Marian Price, especially since the initial charge was so ridiculous.

Once again she was released on bail, and, again, the secretary of State for Northern Ireland said he was revoking her license and ordered her back to prison.

BUT MARIAN Price is not actually on license. Convicted of bombings in Britain, she received a full royal pardon when she was freed in 1980 because she appeared to be on the brink of death from severe anorexia nervosa.

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) has been unable or unwilling to come up with a copy of the pardon in three successive court hearings. Peter Corrigan, Price's lawyer, told The Sunday World "We've asked the NIO to produce the pardon which would free her. They've told us this important document is lost and probably has been shredded. It's all very convenient."

The judge could have released Marian Price in November when he was told that the pardon had been lost. Instead, there will be no hearing until December 21 at the earliest. Unless there is a ruling in her favor, Price could be imprisoned indefinitely even if she is acquitted on all the charges against her.

Marian Price's health was permanently damaged because she was force fed over 400 times when she was on hunger strike in a British prison. She described the force feeding in an interview with Suzanne Breen which was published in The Village in Dublin:

Four male prison officers tie you into the chair so tightly with sheets you can't struggle. You clench your teeth to try to keep your mouth closed but they push a metal spring device around your jaw to prise it open. They force a wooden clamp with a hole in the middle into your mouth. Then, they insert a big rubber tube down that. They hold your head back. You can't speak or move. You're frightened you'll choke to death.

The force-feeding takes 15 minutes but it feels like forever. You're in control of nothing. You're terrified the food will go down the wrong way and you won't be able to let them know because you can't speak or move. You're frightened you'll choke to death.

One day, a doctor put the tube into Price's lung, not her stomach, and water flooded into her lung. "I felt like I was drowning. I passed out. They carried me back to my cell. The doctors were standing over me when I came round. If it had been food, not water in the tube, it would have killed me. The medical and prison staff told the authorities they wouldn't force feed me again."

Price's husband, Jerry McGlinchey, told Radio Free Eireann on WBAI (99.5 FM) that she has never recovered from the force feeding. It caused tuberculosis that had to be treated again just last year. The anorexia has returned and she suffers from such severe arthritis that she can't even open her hand.

McGlinchey said that he is "very, very worried" about his wife's health. He believes that it will get steadily worse as long as she is in solitary confinement.

Marian Price has devoted her entire life to ending British rule in Northern Ireland. She firmly believes this can only be won by an armed struggle. She told Suzanne Breen in The Village interview "Sometimes it's necessary to do something just to let it be known there are people out there who don't accept the status quo. Being a minority of a minority is nothing new for republicans."

Very few people in Ireland would agree with Marian Price. Even many Irish republicans who share her opposition to British rule believe that armed struggle can't accomplish anything in today's Ireland.

But Marian Price's political isolation makes it even more important to defend her human rights. People with unpopular opinions are usually the first victims of government repression.

There are probably hundreds of former political prisoners in Northern Ireland who were released on license. Many have given up on politics. Others remain republicans. Some are even socialists. If the British government succeeds in interning Marian Price, any one of them could be locked up indefinitely at any time for any reason.

Everyone who believes in human rights and civil liberties needs to do whatever they can to help free Marian Price.

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