Republican prisoner held in ‘inhuman and degrading’ conditions

January 19, 2010

by Brónagh Murphy

The conditions in a Lithuanian jail where a republican prisoner, Michael Campbell, is being held on remand have been described as ‘inhuman’ and ‘degrading’ and in direct contravention of prisoners’ human rights.

These findings were included in a recently published report by Professor Rod Morgan, an independent expert in criminal justice and the former head of Britain’s Youth Justice Board.

Professor Morgan’s report re-iterated the findings of the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), which in 2008 inspected the Lukiskes Prison in Vilnius where Campbell, from Dundalk, is being held.

Campbell, from Faughart, has been held on remand in Lukiskes prison for almost two years.  He was arrested with his wife, Fiona Duffy, in January 2008 during a sting operation in which it is believed MI5, the Gardaí and Lithuanian police were involved.   Duffy was held for four months before being released unconditionally and allowed to return to Ireland.  Prosecutors in the case against Campbell allege he was attempting to procure weapons for use by the Real IRA but he insists he had travelled to Vilnius to purchase counterfeit cigarettes and that he is the victim of a conspiracy by British and Lithuanian Intelligence.

Among the conditions which the CPT found to be ‘totally unacceptable’ were cells in a poor state of repair and filthy, little or no access to natural light, inadequate artificial lighting, lack of ventilation, unhygienic toilets, inadequate drinking water provision and absence of outdoor exercise facilities.  Levels of overcrowding were described as ‘outrageous’, with six prisoners sharing an eight metre square cell.  While there have also been reports of high suicide rates.

A follow-up inspection by the Lithuanian Ombudsman acknowledged that conditions in the jail are in violation of the human rights standards and sanitation regulations due to overcrowding and the failure of the authorities to carry out basic renovations.

Since his arrest, Michael Campbell has only been seen by his lawyers and an official from the Irish Embassy in Lithuania.

He is denied any visits from his family and it took numerous court appeals by his lawyers before he was granted two brief phone calls to his wife, their only contact in two years.

According to his family, his mail is heavily censored and he is prevented from making any mention of his trial which began in October 2009.  The trial is being heard in closed court with family and supporters banned from attending.  Severe restrictions have also been placed on media coverage from the court, which sits for just two or three days each month.  Little or no advance notice of some court sittings is given and often Campbell’s legal representatives are not informed of proceedings.  With a date of verdict yet to be returned, there is no indication of how long the trial will continue.

Campbell’s brother, Liam, is currently fighting extradition to Lithuania. He has been held in Maghaberry prison since he was arrested in Bessbrook in May last year for an alleged breach of bail conditions.  At the time he was on bail awaiting extradition proceedings from Dublin and it was alleged his bail conditions prevented him from crossing the border.  It has since been established that conditions were not breached however, he remains in custody.  He faces accusations of conspiracy to procure arms from Lithuania for use by the Real IRA.

Soon after his arrest in the north, extradition proceedings were levelled against him at the behest of the Lithuanian authorities, who have requested he be extradited from Northern Ireland instead.  This request was upheld by the Belfast court despite the fact that the same proceedings were already at an advanced stage in the south.

His extradition hearing from the north is scheduled for next month.