For several hundred years the Irish people have battled the English occupation of their country. In more recent years the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) have continued this tradition of struggle by militarily engaging the British political-military establishment to force a withdrawal of British troops from Ireland and an end to the forced partition of the country, imposed by England after the 1922 civil war.
One of the results of this continuing struggles is that over 650 PIRA and INLA POWs now languish in prisons in the Irish Republic, occupied Northern Ireland, England and several European countries and the United States. For over twenty years Irish POWs have waged a long, bitter struggle to improve their prison conditions and gain recognition of their political status. The British government tries to deny the legitimacy of the Irish people's struggle for freedom by maintaining the fiction that there is no political struggle taking place but that PIRA/INLA attacks on British occupation forces are "criminal" acts no different than liquor store hold ups.
In 1981 Bobby Sands and other Republican prisoners held in Long Kesh prison began a hunger strike to gain recognition of their political status. The strike, which gained world-wide attention, resulted in Sands and 9 other Volunteers (as members of PIRA and INLA are called) dying due to the intransigence of the Thatcher regime. Before and since there have been numerous protests, strikes, blanket protests (the prisoners' refusal to wear prison issued clothes) and other forms of struggle concerning their treatment and conditions.
Inside the prisons in occupied Northern Ireland, especially Long Kesh, the POWs are well organized and continue their political education and activism. They even publish a quarterly magazine called Captive Voice . In 1983, 42 POWs liberated themselves from the infamous H Blocks at Long Kesh. Over the years some have been recaptured in the course of military actions in Ireland, others have died and others remain free.
Recently Jimmy Smyth, Kevin Barry Artt and Paul Brennan were captured in the San Francisco area and charged with passport violations by the U.S. government. All three are escaped Long Kesh prisoners from the 1983 escape. Smyth was recently sentenced to 250 days in jail for passport fraud. He has already served the term and was released on $1.5 million bail July 15, 1993, to receive medical treatment for a problem prison doctors were unable to diagnose. Smyth had been released on bail to prepare for his defense prior to this release but the government had persuaded the ninth circuit court of appeals to revoke his bail.
The government did the same thing again. On July 29, 1993, the ninth circuit court of appeals in a two to one decision, overturned the district court's bail order finding that Smyth's medical problems (he is passing blood in his urine and doctors don't know why) do not justify his release. Of course the court ignored the fact that immigrants with pending asylum claims are supposed to be imprisoned only when they present a flight risk or are a threat to the community. Conditions obviously not present with Smyth. Peter Farrelly, chairperson of the H-Block Three Committee for Justice in San Francisco said that the speed of the appeals court decision led him to believe "that a decision had already been made on political grounds at the behest of the British government." Smyth's extradition trial was due to begin on September 27, 1993.
Congressmen Elliot Engels and Joe Kennedy have asked fellow congressmen to sign a letter to attorney general Janet Reno asking that if the courts decide these men should not be returned to Northern Ireland, that she respect that decision and not allow American justice to be dictated by the British government. We'll see how far this gets.
The British government which occupies Ireland is seeking the three men's extradition back to Northern Ireland to finish serving their prison sentences, sentences imposed by British courts (called "Diplock Courts" they have no jury, just a judge, the accused's silence can be used against them and in essence serve as kangaroo courts in the full sense of the term) to criminalise the national liberation struggle. This case brings to mind that of Joe Doherty. PLN readers may recall the case of Joe Doherty, a PIRA volunteer who was captured in New York City and fought off extradition to England for over eight years. Doherty repeatedly won his case for political asylum in the U.S. courts but American connivance with the British government ensured he was eventually extradited back to Northern Ireland to serve a life sentence for killing a British army officer in a gun battle.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Caulfield, in a preliminary ruling in Smyth's extradition battle, declared that Irish nationalists convicted of crimes against soldiers and police in occupied Ireland face harassment, retaliation and even death. This ruling came down after the British government refused to turn over government reports on their "shoot to kill" policy (where British troops and police kill PIRA/INLA volunteers even if they are wounded, disabled, unarmed, after they have surrendered, etc.) and collusion between British forces and loyalist death squads (just like other imperialist wars the British use death squads to kill their opponents and terrorize the civilian population).
Judge Caulfield ruled that if the British are to succeed in their attempt to extradite Smyth they will have to rebut two presumptions: that Irish nationalists accused of crimes against crown forces are "subject to systematic retaliatory harm, physical detention, or potential death," and that crown forces "either participate in or tacitly endorse these activities."
Irish POWs have won lawsuits in the European Human Rights Court against British forces for brutality and beatings at Long Kesh. The harsh and brutal treatment of Irish POWs is well documented and known to both the U.S. and British governments. This treatment constitutes the de facto policy of the British government to continue its occupation of Ireland by any means necessary, regardless of how brutal or vicious those means may be.
It is clear that Smyth, Brennan and Artt are entitled to political asylum in the United States because they face persecution based on their status as Irish nationalists. In the past, U.S. courts have recognized these legitimate claims to political asylum but the U.S. government has proceeded despite these claims and sent these brave men back to spend long years in the harsh prison cells of an occupying army. Their only "crime" is wanting to live in a country where they can walk down the street without being shot at by British soldiers. A few hundred years ago American colonists had that same desire. For more information on the extradition battle and news from Ireland in general contact: An Phoblacht , 51/55 Falls Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
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