Free Stephen Murney Now !
Stephen Murney's Internment Without Trial
Stephen Murney is a 29-year-old Irish political activist from the border city of Newry, which is located just inside British-occupied Ireland. As well as being active in community politics Stephen is also a member of éirígí, a legal, socialist republican political party. On the morning of November 28, 2012 as he prepared to celebrate his birthday, Stephen's home was raided by a unit of heavily armed British police. Stephen was arrested and taken to the high security interrogation centre in Antrim town.
On December 1, 2012 Stephen was taken to court and charged with a number of spurious ‘terrorist' related ‘offences'. He was then remanded to Maghaberry high security prison where he remains to this day. No date has yet been fixed for Stephen's trial in one of Britain's ‘special' courts. Like other political prisoners in the Six Counties it is possible that Stephen could serve up to three years in prison before his trial.
Stephen's arrest and imprisonment followed a long-running campaign of harassment by the PSNI (a British paramilitary force) against republicans in the Newry area. Before his arrest Stephen was to the fore in highlighting and challenging the activities of the PSNI both in the local media and on social networking websites.
As a result of his campaigning work Stephen found himself the target of continuous harassment by the PSNI, including near daily ‘stop and searches', threats and assault. Independent human rights organisations are currently investigating this campaign of harassment against Stephen and others in the Newry area.
The Initial Charges
When the PSNI raided Stephen's home they seized a number of items including éirígí party literature, a laptop computer and a number other items. When Stephen was brought before the courts on December 1, the British state levelled the following charges against him.
These charges are extremely serious, bringing with them the possibility of lengthy custodial sentences upon conviction. In any normal society the level of evidence required to support such charges would be extremely high. But occupied Ireland is far from a normal society.
‘Collecting Information Likely to be of Use to Terrorists'
In support of the charge of ‘collecting information likely to be of use to terrorists', the PSNI cited a large number of photographs of police that they allegedly recovered from Stephen's laptop.
The vast bulk of the images in question were not actually created by Stephen but were instead downloaded from the internet. Many of these images date back as far as the Civil Rights movement in the late 1960s. Anyone who has used a search engine to research any of the tumultuous events of the last forty years in occupied Ireland may find that their computer also contains large numbers of images which are now deemed to be ‘of use to terrorists.'
Other images of the police were taken at political protests, commemorations and other public events. These photos were taken in full view of the police, a point conceded to by the PSNI in court. If the taking of such photos constituted an offence why wasn't Steven arrested when he actually took them?
‘Distributing Information Likely to be of Use to Terrorists'
In charging Steven with ‘distributing information likely to be of use to terrorists' the PSNI cited his use of Facebook and other internet platforms to post images of the police. Again these photographs were taken of the police in public and on duty at political protests, commemorations and so forth. In essence the PSNI are alleging that anyone who uses the internet to post images of the police is now ‘distributing information likely to be of use to terrorists'.
It is common practice across the world for political activists to take photographs of the police at political protests and demonstrations. Indeed legal and human rights organisations routinely advise activists to document police behaviour and harassment. When activists in Syria, Libya and elsewhere use social media to highlight alleged police malpractice, brutality and violence they are applauded by the British political establishment and the media. Yet when activists do the same thing in Ireland they are deemed to be ‘terrorists'.
‘Articles Likely to be of Use to Terrorists'
In support of the charge of ‘possession of articles likely to be of use to terrorists' the PSNI cited two BB guns (ball-bearing airguns ), berets, trousers and jumpers recovered from Steven's home. ‘BB guns' are legal and widely available across Ireland. The berets, trousers and jumpers are all part of the uniform of a drum and flute band that Stephen was previously a member of. If such items are now deemed to be of ‘use to terrorists' it can be expected that thousands of Irish citizens will soon be charged just like Stephen Murney .
On February 20, 2013, the PSNI removed Stephen from Maghaberry Prison and took him back to Antrim interrogation centre for further ‘questioning'. The following day the British state levelled additional charges against Stephen, in a move widely seen as an attempt to bolster the very weak case against the Newry man.
The new charges included one of ‘possession of articles for use in terror' and ‘aiding and abetting in criminal damage to property owned by persons unknown'. The former charge relate to a single photograph allegedly recovered from Stephen's computer which he has already been charged with possessing. The later charge related to the possession of a number of stencils that had allegedly been used to spray-paint political slogans in Newry !
Stephen Refuses Collective Punishment and Criminalisation
On December 21, 2012 the Belfast High Court granted bail to Stephen, but in doing so the court attached a series of draconian conditions including:
The extreme bail conditions which the court sought to impose upon Stephen amounted to a form of collective punishment for Stephen's partner, child and wider family. They were also clearly designed to ‘ criminalise ' legitimate political activism. In a highly principled decision Stephen refused to accept the onerous conditions attached to his bail, opting instead to return to Maghaberry Prison.
As a political prisoner in Maghaberry Prison Stephen is subjected to extremely harsh conditions, involving very long periods of ‘lock-up' in a small cell. Access to any form of ‘recreation' and association with other political prisoners is extremely limited. All movements from cells to common and ‘recreation' areas are controlled by ‘riot squad' screws complete with body armour , batons and shields.
During his internment in Maghaberry Stephen has been subject to a number of forced strip searches. In February 2013 Stephen penned an article detailing his experience of this most degrading of prison controls,
‘..at this point I made it known that I would not be complying with the strip-search as it was degrading and humiliating for prisoners. I was then taken and placed in a ‘holding cell' and informed that I had 15 minutes to rethink my decision. This ‘reflection period' is solely designed as a psychological ploy to strike fear and worry into prisoners as they wait for what lies ahead.
...the screw standing in front of me grabs me by the face with both his hands while, simultaneously, the two screws each side of me grab my arms and stretch them outright forcing me to stand in a crucifix position.
Both my wrists are forcibly twisted and bent backwards, causing extreme pain and discomfort. I am forced onto my knees. As the screw in front pushes my face into the ground, the screw behind me then pulls both my legs from under me. I am now being held on the ground still in a crucifix position by four screws. I am forcibly held down with my face pushed into the ground. Both my legs are being held by two screws.
My arms are still outstretched with both my wrists twisted and bent in an almost impossible position. While I am held in this position my jumper is forcefully pulled off and thrown into the corner, my shoes and socks are the pulled off, next my jeans are very forcefully yanked down in a manner, which clearly, is only used to inflict pain on the prisoner.
Lastly my underwear is pulled down. I am now lying on the floor of the cell completely naked, humiliated and degraded. My clothes are lying in the corner of the cell. My face is throbbing, my wrists are aching and, while I am lying there naked, those responsible stand towering above me...'
The full text of Stephen's harrowing account of the reality of Maghaberry can be read here .
A Test Case that must Not Succeed
‘First they came for the communists and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist,
Over the last number of decades a pattern has emerged across the ‘developed' world whereby legal powers that were once considered to be ‘extraordinary' or ‘special' have become integrated into the ‘normal' legal system. In many instances this transformation from ‘special' to ‘normal' is achieved under the auspices of protecting ‘state security' and/or fighting ‘terrorism'. In many cases this process has been accelerated through ‘test cases' which set legal precedent for future cases.
It is widely believed in political and legal circles that the PSNI are using Stephen Murney's case as just such a test case to effectively lower the bar for the British state to secure convictions against political activists. If that state succeeds in convicting Stephen on the basis of the ‘evidence' outlined above it will set a legal precedent which will have deep and far-reaching consequences for activists across the political spectrum in Ireland, Britain and beyond.
It would be extremely naive to believe that a precedent established against an Irish republican today would not be used against a socialist, anarchist, environmentalist, trade unionist, whistleblower or other political opponent tomorrow. All who claim to stand against injustice and for human rights are duty-bound to support Stephen Murney and the campaign to have him released.
Following Stephen's internment without trial éirígí launched a campaign calling for Stephen to be released from Maghaberry and for all charges against him to be dropped. The campaign aims to raise public awareness about Stephen's case and build political pressure for his release. To this end the campaign has developed on a number of fronts including:
What You Can Do