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Two separate political prisoner solidarity pickets took place Saturday 13th in Dublin City centre, one on O’Connell Bridge and the other at the Instituto Cervantes, the cultural arm of the Spanish Embassy, on the one-way traffic system at Lincoln Place, linking Nassau Street and Westland Row.
The first, at 2pm on the pedestrian reservation on O’Connell Bridge, was the fourth weekly one organised by a broad coalition in solidarity with Patxi Ruiz, who had ended his hunger strike in a Spanish jail on its 31st day earlier in the week. The second picket, outside the Instituto Cervantes at 3pm, was organised by the Irish Republican group Saoradh, not only in solidarity with Basque prisoners but with all political prisoners, although Patxi’s struggle had given the original impulse for a picket at this time. In addition, Irish Republican prisoners in Port Laoise had on Friday embarked on a 72-hour solidarity fast.
Patxi Ruiz is one of around 200 Basque political prisoners serving sentences in the Spanish and French states, almost invariably, in jails far from their homes, their families and friends, if not too sick, elderly or too young, having to travel long distances to visit them. Ending the dispersal policy was one of Ruiz’s demands, the end of beatings by warders another. He also called for the automatic right to attend funerals of close family (he had been denied permission to attend his father’s funeral) and the resumption of family visits. It is not known whether any of those demands have been conceded but thought unlikely.
Although Ruiz is one of five prisoners who have publicly rejected the new path of their movement’s official leadership announced in 2012, his struggle was supported during the hunger-strike by protest mobilisations across the Basque Country, involving pickets, solidarity fasts and sit-ins, protest marches and car-cavalcades. After ten days the official leadership criticised his following through statements by the political parties Sortu and EH Bildu (the latter may be seen as a successor to Herri Batasuna). More recently, the leader of EH Bildu Arnaldo Otegi, generally seen as the main architect of the shift in 2012, publicly attacked the hunger-striker and his support movement, including the Amnistia group, accusing them of directing the whole thing against his party. Amnistia, whose full name translates as “Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression”, replied that they had more important things to focus on than damaging that party’s electoral chances, such as conditions in the prisons, the liberation of their nation and of the working class.
Patxi Ruiz’s struggle found support internationally: a monster petition in Argentina, a rally in Italy, a mass picket in Barcelona and a number of public expressions of solidarity in Ireland. An ad-hoc coalition of four groups composed of Anti-Internment Group of Ireland, Dublin Basque Solidarity Committee and Anti-Imperialist Flying Column, all in Dublin, along with Derry Anarchists mobilised to support the prisoner’s hunger and thirst strike. A hunger strike can be sustained by a healthy individual for a number of weeks without irreparable harm, however going without fluids is not only painful but hastens collapse of a number of bodily organs. Fortunately Patxi Ruiz decided to end the thirst part of his strike on the 18th of May.
“The method political prisoners choose to protest is their choice, not ours,” one of the organisers said in Dublin on Saturday; “our role is to support them and publicise their situation. We don’t have access to the mass media, so if we need to highlight something, what we have is our social media along with whoever shares our posts — and our presence on the street.”
Their first picket was on O’Connell Street in front of the GPO on May 23, the second by the Jim Larkin monument in the same street on the 30th and the last two on O’Connell Bridge in June, while in Derry people gathered at the Free Derry Corner monument every Saturday. Each week photos were taken, some sent to the Basque Country and some published on social media, with an update on the situation.
SECRET POLICE HARASSMENT IN DUBLIN
One of the secret policemen who was harassing the protesters on Saturday. (Photo credit: Clive Sulish)
During a number of those pickets, participants were approached by plainclothes Gardaí, of the political surveillance section colloquially known as “the Special Branch” and required to give their names and addresses. Although the Special Powers Act does give the Gardaí quite extensive powers to question and even detain suspects, they are supposed to have a reasonable suspicion that the suspects are committing – or about to commit — a crime. It is hard to imagine in this case that such reasonable suspicion existed in the minds of these Gardaí and much easier to believe that the purpose is a cross between intimidation and amassing files on people who are carrying out a peaceful protest and breaking no law. Meanwhile a vocal group of far-Right people demonstrating against pandemic restrictions have been staging protests in front of the GPO, reportedly without any interference by the Special Branch. A number of participants commented that the Irish Council for Civil Liberty should be doing something about this abuse of Garda powers.
The secret political police were again very much in evidence at the second political prisoner solidarity picket on Saturday. Organised by the Irish Republican organisation Saoradh, it began at 3pm and soon collected a half-dozen of these gentlemen who proceeded to demand names and addresses from all present. Unable or unwilling to state which crime they suspected the picketers were committing or about to commit ensured that in the case of a couple of strong-willed individuals who understood the provisions of the quoted Act, the ‘Branch officer was unsuccessful. In a couple of other cases their inability to question in the Irish language left them also without success when confronted with some who were fluent and insisted upon their Constitutional right to have the whole exchange conducted “i nGaeilge”. Some of those problems the ‘Branch had encountered before with the picketers in O’Connell Street and on O’Connell Bridge.
Neither Gardaí nor protesters remarked upon the irony of the presence of Oriel House less than 100 metres away on the corner of Westland Row. The building, which operated as a police station during the Irish Civil War, was notorious for the torture inflicted on detainees within, as well as being used as an operations base for kidnapping and murder by the Free State Army and Gardaí.
IRISH REPUBLICAN PRISONERS IN PORTLAOISE ON 72-HOUR FAST
The protesters, who included some from the earlier protest on O’Connell Street, were spread following the curve of the pavement outside the Instituto, which was closed. A number of Basque flags were in evidence, along with a Palestinian one and a number of Irish ones too. Banners and placards completed the display.
Some time into the protest, the picketers gathered to hear a statement read out on behalf of the Irish Republican prisoners in Portlaoise prison, Co.Laois, Ireland. The statement had been published on social media earlier in the week as part of an announcement of a 72-hour fast of Republican prisoners en Portlaoise, commencing on Friday and expressed solidarity with Patxi Ruiz and other political prisoners arising from the struggles of the Basques, Catalans, Palestinians, Kurds and socialists in Turkey.
The Portlaoise prisoners’ statement went on to point out that they too are political prisoners as are those in Maghaberry and to denounce the strip-searching and sectarian abuse in the latter, along with the antiquated conditions in Portlaoise, as well as the special courts that are used to jail them on both sides of the Border. It also criticised people who campaign about faraway struggles without seeing those at home, along with some ex-prisoners who had signed a recent appeal in solidarity with Patxi Ruiz but who, according to the statement, did nothing about the current Irish political prisoners. (The End Internment Facebook page of the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland lists around 70 Irish Republican prisoners, mostly in Portlaoise or in Maghaberry).
A statement from the Saoradh group was read out too which, though shorter, covered much of the same ground. Both statements were applauded by those present and the protesters dispersed soon afterwards.