Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada
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Toronto Jewish Woman Begins Open-ended Yom Kippur Fast in Support of Hunger-Striking Muslim Prisoner

Hassan Almrei, held almost Two Years in Solitary Confinement, now in 9th day of Hunger Strike Demanding Heat in His Cell and an End to the Use of Secret Evidence Which Keeps Him There

Diana Ralph, a Toronto Jewish woman, has begun an open-ended fast in support of Hassan Almrei, the 29-year-old Syrian-born refugee who has been held, without charge or bail, on secret "evidence" since October 19, 2001. Almrei, who is freezing in his cell and cannot sleep because it is not warm enough, is now in day 9 of a hunger strike demanding shoes, a jacket, and heat in his concrete cell. He had already lost over 90 pounds in the two years he has been in solitary confinement. Since he began his fast, he has lost another 15 pounds. He now weighs only 180 pounds.

While the province mandates the temperature be at least 21 degrees Celsius in prisons, Almrei's cell is far below that. There is little or no heat in the solitary units, and guards wear coats and use space heaters to keep themselves warm. In Almrei's cell, a ventilation fan constantly blows cold air down directly onto him. If he tries to turn it off, he loses his oxygen. In his thin short-sleeved prison coverall, Almrei has to sit huddled under thin blankets, unable to sleep for the cold. Prisoners like Almrei are denied sweaters, slippers, or warm clothes, a violation of the UN Minimum Prison Standards to which Canada is signatory. Having endured two such bone-chilling winters, Almrei has had enough and is demanding the basic right to be warm in winter.

"Many Jews fast for a day during Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement," explains Ralph, who has offered her basement apartment for Hassan Almrei should he be granted bail. "In Canada right now, we have a lot to atone for, especially with respect to the ill-treatment of Muslims. Right now, there are five Muslim men who have been collectively held 104 months in Canadian prisons, without charge or bail, on secret evidence neither they nor their lawyers are allowed to see. It's great to see Syrian detainee Maher Arar coming come to his family after Canada decried his upcoming secret trial, but we need to look in our own backyard and see the same denial of human rights taking place here."

Ralph, whose father was a lawyer at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal following the Nazi atrocities of WWII, sees disturbing parallels between the targetting of Jews in Germany and the secret trial detention of Muslims in Canada, the U.S. Britain, and in Guantanamo Bay. "My father taught me that we all have an obligation to protect justice and human rights. This is a racist war on Muslims, which threatens the security of all Canadians. CSIS now defines anyone who supports animal rights, the environment, and global social justice as 'terrorists.' I won't allow my country to betray its democratic character."

"A fast is a lot easier for me than it is for Hassan," she says. "I can go outside and get fresh air. I can wear warm clothes and control the heat in my living space. If my landlord fails to provide me with adequate heat, I can take him to the Rental Tribunal. Hassan gets none of that, and has had none of that, for almost two full years. That's torture, and it violates Canada's international commitments and our basic sense of decency as Canadians."

Ralph will fast as long as she is able, while the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada is signing up volunteers to take part in a chain-fast in support of Almrei as well as a letter writing campaign. Members of the campaign plan a national day of action against the secret trials on October 31, with a mass trick-or-treat at the Ottawa headquarters of CSIS.

To reach Diana Ralph, call (416) 658-5854. The Campaign can be reached at (416) 651-5800.

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