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Vol. 77/No. 42      November 25, 2013

Prison hunger strikers face reprisals
as papers that back them are censored
(front page)
Since some 30,000 California prisoners launched a hunger strike July 8 against the practice of long-term solitary confinement and other abuses, participants have faced punitive retaliation and censorship of newspapers and other media that backed their fight.

Abuses continued after prisoners suspended the strike Sept. 5, following promises from elected officials to begin legislative hearings into prison conditions and from state prison authorities to convene talks on inmates’ demands.

The hunger strike was widely reported in the national and international press, including in publications that back the fight for the rights of workers behind bars, such as the San Francisco Bay View, Prison Legal News and the Militant.

On Sept. 9 the Militant received notice from Santa Rosa Correctional Institution in Florida that they had impounded the July 22 issue reporting on the launching of the hunger strike from a subscriber there. Since then, two other prisoners — another from Florida and one in Washington state — reported to the paper they too were denied issues of their subscription.

The Militant, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, fought this censorship. So far, authorities at the two Florida prisons have been pushed back and delivered the inmates’ papers. Efforts to win the same are underway in Washington.

On Oct. 18, four leaders of the prisoners’ fight confined in Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Units wrote a letter to Juan Méndez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, asking that he meet with them and undertake to “bring both our conditions and our human rights movement to the attention of the international community.”

“Over 3,500 prisoners remain isolated in California’s SHUs with almost no human interaction, little opportunity to exercise or even see the sun, and forbidden from contact visits or telephone calls with their families,” the four — Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, Antonio Guillen and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa — wrote. “They join thousands of others who are held in different forms of solitary confinement throughout the system.”

“I believe the prisoners should have newspapers,” Marie Levin, sister of Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, told the Militant. “My brother’s writings have been reprinted in the San Francisco Bay View. That is how prisoners keep informed.

“The people running the prisons try to keep newspapers with prisoners’ point of view from going in, papers such as the Rock, the Bay View, the Militant and Prison Focus,” she said. “Especially during the hunger strike they wanted to keep the prisoners from knowing what is happening.

“When I heard the Militant had won a victory, I wasn’t surprised,” Levin said. “They had no valid reason to keep the paper out. They just wanted to put a roadblock in the way. You have to stand up to them. If you don’t, they’ll continue to block it.”

Thousands of former hunger strikers, both those in solitary and in the general population, have received Rules Violation Report notices. These disciplinary reports can extend your time in solitary, lead to imposition of a host of other restrictions, or become the basis for being denied parole.

Backers of prisoners’ struggles are organizing to get letters protesting the victimizations to Michael Stainer, director of the Division of Adult Institutions at California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Stainer’s address at the CDCR is P.O. Box 942883, Sacramento, CA 94283, or  
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