Hunger strike in german prisons

Harassment of a female prisoner triggers a week-long hunger strike in 39 prisons, highlighting a problem that has been largely suppressed in the public eye

Since 4. In August, 537 prisoners from a total of 39 German prisons are on a one-week hunger strike. In solidarity with them, a few prison inmates from Belgium, Switzerland and Belgium also refuse to eat for a week.

It is the roughest action by prisoners in a long time. In the past, hunger strikes in prisons have always been closely associated with prisoners who had political motives. In the 1970s and 1980s, for example, there were several hunger strikes by members of the Red Army Faction, who demanded that they be grouped together in larger groups and that sick prisoners be released. They were joined by prisoners who had not been convicted of political crimes. At that time, the always controversial distinction between political and social prisoners came up.

Hunger strike in german prisons

The last hunger strike by RAF prisoners took place in 1989 and had a broader social resonance. That was when the Prisoner Info was founded, which still reports monthly about prison and repression today. Even there, the distinction between political and social prisoners is no longer considered meaningful today. It depends rather on how one behaves under prison conditions. "There is the type of prisoner who is very submissive to the prison hierarchy, but for this reason alone is not necessarily popular with many prisoners and is even suspected of being a denunciator. Then there are those who don’t mince their words, even in prison, and have to reckon with punishments of various kinds again and again," says a long-time prison inmate, outlining the current situation in the prisons.

Nadine Tribian is one of the inmates who doesn’t mince her words. The woman is imprisoned in the Bielefeld-Brackwedel prison and has been complaining for a long time and again about special harassment such as increased isolation and mail censorship. "In the meantime I have reached a point where I have to say that I definitely can’t go on," she wrote in one of her last letters.

The situation of Nadine Tribian is the cause and starting point of the current week-long hunger strike. Peter Scherzl, who is imprisoned in the Rheinbach prison in North Rhine-Westphalia and is involved in coordinating the protests, explains the fact that such a broad initiative has developed in her case with the increasing prere in everyday prison life. Daily humiliation, censorship of critical newspapers and letters, contact blocks and solitary confinement are now commonplace in many prisons. Therefore, the case of Nadine Tribian was only the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Prisoners did not need long explanations, but could immediately understand the situation of the woman.

There had been warnings for a long time

For the few people who are more intensively involved with prison conditions, the action does not come as a surprise either. Both prison chaplains and members of prisoners’ aid organizations have been warning about this for a long time, but they are rarely listened to. More than a year ago, the fatal mistreatment of a prisoner in the Siegburg correctional facility in the fall of 2007 caused a brief sensation. It became clear, however, that this is not an isolated case. At that time, attention was also drawn to the overcrowding and the often literally mind-numbing boredom of everyday prison life. After a short period of prominence, the ie disappeared from the public eye.

In recent months, several suicides in Hessian prisons, including several juveniles, have alarmed at least prison chaplains. But such cautionary voices are quickly marginalized by populist discourse about prisons that are supposedly too liberal. That is why only a small number of individuals and leftist organizations support the hunger strike of prisoners outside the prison walls.

Wolfgang Lettow, editor of the already mentioned Prisoner Info, is one of them. He sees the aggravations in everyday prison life as a reflection of social conditions. The neo-liberal dogma is also in effect in prisons and the inmates are directly exposed to the prere. "The prisoners are making it clear with the hunger strike that they reject this object status," Lettow emphasizes. Prisoner activist Peter Scherzl sees the hunger strike as a prelude to a long-term campaign to change the prison situation. The project can only be implemented if it succeeds in attracting more attention outside the prison walls.

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