REPORT FROM DAY 18 OF HASSAN'S HUNGER STRIKE
PO Box 73620, 509 St. Clair Ave. West
Toronto, ON M6C 1C0
(416) 651-5800, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.homesnotbombs.ca
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE October 16, 2003
A Weak, Pained Hassan Almrei, Faced With Freezing to Death or Starving to Death, Begins Day 18 of a Hunger Strike to Demand Shoes, Sweater, Guarantee of Heat
"Why is it so difficult to provide Hassan with a guarantee of heat if the government says there is no problem with the temperature in his cell?"
Friends and supporters of Syrian refugee Hassan Almrei, detained in solitary confinement for two years on secret evidence without charge or bail and now in day 18 of a punishing hunger strike, have a single question for the government of Ontario: why is it so difficult to produce a written promise to maintain the wintertime temperature in Almrei's freezing concrete cell at 22 degrees Celsius and provide a sweater and shoes?
"No one goes on hunger strike on a whim, it's because there is a serious issue that needs to be addressed, but the government is ignoring it. Almrei has been given the grim choice this winter of either freezing to death, or starving to death to try and get a guarantee of warmth," says friend Matthew Behrens. "He is not asking for the world. All he wants are the minimum standards for prisoners as set out by the United Nations. It seems if the Ontario government, which runs Metro West Detention Centre, will not produce a written guarantee of warmth in his cell, it's because they are unwilling to provide it."
In a brief phone call last night from the jail, Almrei said he is in a great deal of pain, and has difficulty walking and talking. His voice sometimes slurred, he was, as of 6:30 pm, freezing in his hands and feet. He explained that someone from the government ombudsman had arrived, well dressed and in shoes, at 12:30 pm or so, and stood in his cell for some two minutes before leaving.
"They don't understand that coming in the middle of the day for two minutes, when it is the warmest, does not give you a sense of how cold it gets in here," Almrei explained. "I am on hunger strike because it will get even worse in December and January and February."
Almrei explained he cannot sleep at night due to the cold and now, because of his hunger strike, during which he has lost over 25 pounds, "All the fat in my body is gone, so when I try to lie down it feels like my bones are breaking." He is suffering from headaches that feel as if "my head is going to explode" and is worried that his health is taking a potentially lethal turn. He was not sent to solitary for any act of violence or rules infraction, the usual reason for being placed in solitary (and usually it is only for a very short period of punishment, not two years). Contrary to media assertions that Hassan is there by choice, for the first 15 months of his detention, he was held in solitary without reason, other than the vague excuse of "security" that no one could explain, and was even denied a sheet for his mattress and a pillow.
On Tuesday, at the The Ministry of Public Safety and Security (sic), friends of Almrei, including Diana Ralph, then in day 9 of a support hunger strike, were turned away by a line of police and security after attempting to deliver a space heater, extension cord, and credit card, indicating that they were willing to pay for the heat in solitary if the government would not. The Ministry continues to insist there is no problem, despite being caught in a lie that there are allegedly "no complaints" about the cold.
In fact, a guard's report written in 1996 showed that the cold in solitary at Metro West is lethal. The guard writes that one inmate died in his cell, with a body temperature of 28 degrees Celsius at death and a temperature of 10 degrees C in his cell in February.
"All bunks in segregation are made of concrete," the guard wrote in the leaked document. "The cold from the concrete sinks right into the inmates bodies. We could give out more blankets, however there seems to be a shortage of these. Even with more blankets, with the cold temperatures inside these cells, it is more of a band-aid solution and could hardly be considered 'humane.' to live (survive) under these conditions."
"The government is not taking into account the long term exposure to the cold Hassan faces every fall, winter and spring," says Behrens. "For someone who is well dressed and healthy, who has had a good breakfast and lunch, and is dressed in multi-layered clothing (unlike Hassan's thin coveralls) to simply visit his cell for a few minutes at mid-day, is NOT sufficient to test the conditions in there. There needs to be a thermometer in each cell that is monitored constantly because of the dramatic temperature changes.
"We are calling once again for the government to meet Hassan's three simple demands. If they cannot meet these simple demands, they are faced with having blood on their hands. It is unclear how much longer Hassan can go on without any nutrition whatsoever. Again, we ask, why is it so difficult to monitor the temperature in Hassan's cell in the evening and overnight, when it is coldest, and provide a guarantee of 22 degrees Celsius (the government requirement), a sweater, and shoes?
"If the government refuses to guarantee these things to Hassan, they are essentially signing a death warrant."
A rally to support Hassan and other secret trial prisoners held in Canada without charge or bail is scheduled for Sunday, October 19, 12 noon, at the Metro West Detention Centre, 111 Disco Road. For more information call (416) 651-5800.