The Forgotten Long Lartin Hostages
By Yvonne Ridley, Cageprisoners.com, 27/04/2006
Ever since I became a patron of Cageprisoners and Stop Political Terror, I have written and responded to letters from scores of brothers in Belmarsh, Woodhill, Whitemoor, Full Sutton and Long Lartin prisons.
Despite the overwhelming injustices and inhumane treatment dished out to them they have, on the whole, tried to remain optimistic.
The reason for this optimism? British justice and its international reputation as a beacon for human rights.
Well, thanks to the former Home Secretary David Blunkett, and now Charles Clarke, that reputation lies in the gutter in tatters.
There are still brothers being held without trial and without charge in the British prison system despite significant legal rulings that their continued detention flies in the face of human rights.
Their letters have gradually changed over the months and years.
Some have literally been driven mad while others have looked on helplessly as their brothers sink into a quagmire of total despair.
For some bizarre reason certain prison officers have even taken a sadistic pleasure in their despair and the demise of their mental state.
In the last year I have received many telephone calls from the brothers who have shared their feelings of hope and despair, their concerns for loved ones and their anger at the hopelessness of their situation.
Finally, last month the frustrations of at least four Algerian brothers spilled over and they decided to bring an end to their uncertain futures within the British prison system.
They announced that they could no longer endure the mental torture of being held hostage by a vindictive British Government which continued to carpet bomb their human rights.
To the dismay of their lawyers, human rights campaigners and many of us within SPT and Cageprisoners, they said they wanted to return to Algeria… regardless of the very real threat of physical torture which is routinely carried out in a country which has a lack of regard for basic human rights.
Algerian Embassy officials in London have visited some of the inmates in Long Lartin prison in Evesham, Wiltshire and others on vicious and restrictive control orders have also been contacted by the embassy staff.
The message from Algeria is quite clear … come home, there’s a general amnesty and you have nothing to fear.
Well, you would think that the Home Office would be jumping for joy, after all previous Home Secretary David Blunkett often delighted in telling the media that the Belmarsh detainees and others ‘foreign terror suspects’ trapped in the prison system were free to return to their country of origin.
So keen was the British Government to get rid of the foreign detainees, Foreign office staff were duly despatched to some Muslim countries with disgusting human rights records to secure Memorandums of Understanding that none of them would be tortured.
Despite all of these weasel words by Blunkett and Charles Clarke, four of the Algerian detainees have now said they could no longer give a stuff about Memorandums of Understanding, they just want the hell out of a prison system which is holding them in a legal limbo.
As I wrote before, the Algerian Embassy has prepared the paperwork but still, after four excruciatingly long weeks, the brothers are still none the wiser about their future. Requests and assurances about the government’s next move in their case have been met with a wall of silence.
In the middle of all of this, at the request of the brothers and because it was a worthy news story already being followed by mainstream media, I ran with their plight on my morning current affairs show The Agenda with Yvonne Ridley.
Well, as a result of some honest reporting (this Government does not like the truth) my telephone number was removed from the Long Lartin brothers’ lists and they were punished in a petty, vindictive and vicious in a way which would be more suited to a banana republic than a Western Democracy.
By Thursday last week a hunger strike had been launched – an action vehemently denied by the Home Office. The denials continued even when I showed them the attached letter in today’s Guardian (April 26 2006) at the bottom of this article.
You decide. Do you believe the words coming from the Home Office that all is well and moves are afoot to send home the Algerians as soon as possible, and that there is no hunger strike? Or do you believe the brothers? Read their words. You be their judge because those in government are not fit to hold that position.
Sr. Yvonne Ridley
‘We Are Being Held As Political Hostages’
We are Algerian men who have now been locked up in prison in this country for as long as five years. We know that we face torture in our country of origin, but some of us have come to the decision that a quick death is preferable to the slow death we feel we are enduring here. We have watched some of our members go mad under the strain; we have watched our families suffer and some of us believe that the only thing that we can do is to go forward into the fire, even though we believe we will be burnt.
Having made that decision, we now find that the Algerian embassy says it is the Home Office that is not cooperating with them. We believe that the Home Office prefers to keep us here as a particular form of hostage, for political purposes, and to continue to inflict cruelty upon us, until, they hope, all of us will feel compelled to go.
We have tried to tell the media and, in particular, we have tried to tell the Islam television channel in this country, but had the phone box closed down so we could no longer phone the presenter of the programme, whose number we had previously been authorised to ring. We know the population at large in this country, including Muslims, knows nothing of what has happened to us. We write to ask that you help us break the silence. We are all on hunger strike and have been so now for a week.
The forgotten Long Lartin hostages
Long Lartin prison, Evesham, Worcs