On March 11, a select group of thirteen prisoners, all Muslim, were re-classified as ‘extreme high-risk restricted’, without any explanation provided as to why these changes suddenly occurred. The majority of these prisoners have been convicted of terrorism-related offences, except for two prisoners who are still awaiting trial on terrorism offences. The prisoners’ new classification was accompanied by a raft of unprecedented changes to conditions inside the prison, which have been described as ‘cruel and degrading’.
Justice Action has raised serious concerns regarding the introduction of strict new security regulations at Goulburn’s ‘Supermax’ Correctional Centre. The regulations clearly breach A10 of the ICCPR, which state all persons are to be “treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person”. Justice Action has written a letter to the Commissioner to urgently review these changes.
Weekly prisoner allowances have been cut from $100 to $13, making it impossible for inmates to purchase Halal food and pay for phone calls to relatives overseas. The permitted number of phone calls and visits has also been severely restricted, with prisoners only allowed one visit per week, during which they are required to speak English. Former NSW Attorney-General Brad Hazzard introduced the changes due to concerns that allowing prisoners to speak in languages other than English posed a security risk. However, for some of the men, this means that they are no longer able to communicate with their loved ones, because English is not their first language. A number of prisoners have also reported difficulties accessing their lawyers, with legal conferences being frequently ‘cut short’, rejected or suddenly cancelled due to “operational procedures”.
Relatives of the men claim that these recent changes “have caused great distress and anguish for the prisoners and their families, leaving them feeling frustrated, vulnerable and helpless”. The men have reportedly refused to accept food, water and visits in protest of their poor treatment. They remain in 24-hour lockdown and are refusing to return to their cells at the end of the day “by staying stationary until carried or escorted”. To make matters worse, the prisoners and their families have still not received any explanation for the new changes to prison conditions. This may amount to arbitrary punishment, according to Justice Action.
Brad Hazzard has argued that these new restrictions are necessary to prevent the inmates from “coordinating terrorism activities or inciting extremism from inside prison”. However, searches of the facility have not found any evidence of terrorist related activities or a breach of security that would justify the response. Corrective Services NSW has also recognised that media releases dated 8/3/15, 11/03/15 and 21/09/14 are inaccurate and untrue, and there is no threat within the SuperMax facility.
This crackdown on prisoners has led to rising tensions amongst prisoners, as well as the wider Muslim community. OnePath Network, a not-for-profit Muslim organisation, expressed its concerns about the treatment of prisoners to Justice Action on the network’s Spot Light Show. Justice Action agreed that the new changes arbitrarily removed prisoners’ basic human rights. Furthermore, Justice Action has warned that these draconian prison conditions could have the unintended effect of hardening prisoners and reinforce their feelings of radicalisation, thereby fostering the very type of extremism that the government is trying to prevent.
“We should never forget that the intention of the prison system is to rehabilitate prisoners and ensure that are better upon their release,” said Justice Action, who rejected the claim that restrictions on prisoner’s rights were justified by the need to protect national security. Justice Action maintains that the basic rights of prisoners must be defended at all costs, “otherwise a lack of respect within prisons could lead to a backlash.”
Compelling statements and stories from families affected:
To see the interview with Brett Collins and the OnePath Network, click here.
To see the report on families’ comments on the new regulation, click here.
The Hunger Strike