Over 700 lifers stage prison hunger strike

Sun, 12/09/2007 - 04:41

Over 700 lifers stage prison hunger strikeOver 700 inmates serving life terms in Italian jails are in the third day of a hunger strike to demand an end to what they define as ''a never-ending sentence''.

The initiative began at a prison in the central Italian city of Spoleto and has now spread to 50 other penitentiaries.

A group calling itself '99/99/9999' showed their support for the protest by briefly occupying ANSA's offices in Paris on Monday where they delivered a statement.

In the statement, the group said: ''Out of 1,295 people serving life sentences 755 have decided to take part in this strike along with 8,400 other inmates, relatives and friends''.

The protest, the statement continued, ''follows the collective request of 310 lifers last June asking for the reinstatement of the death penalty for themselves'' because they were ''tired of dying a little bit every day'' and preferred ''to die once and for all''.

The group said it took its name ''from the date of the end of the sentence written on incarceration certificates for people condemned to life imprisonment''.

The hunger strike, which in some prisons is on a rotation basis, has also won the support of the Associazione Antigone, a group which acts as a lobby in support of prisoner rights.

''We have always maintained that life sentences should be abolished and for this reasons we have always given our support to those inside penitentiaries who peacefully protest to end this 'never-ending' sentence,'' said association president Patrizio Gonnella.

Spearheading the protest in Spoleto was Carmelo Musumeci, who is not new to such actions. In 2006 he staged a protest to be transferred from the prison in Nuoro, Sardinia, so he could continue his studies at the University of Florence.

A year earlier, Musumeci filed a suit at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg which led to Italy being reprimanded for the tough prison conditions imposed for dangerous criminals known as 41-bis.

Inmates subject to 41-bis prison treatment can be kept in single-person cells in maximum-security jails, almost entirely cut off from the outside world.

They are not permitted to buy anything or to receive parcels but they can spend up to four hours a day in the open air and are allowed to mix with five other inmates at a time.

41-bis was introduced in 1992 as a temporary measure designed to help cope with a Mafia emergency and became a permanent fixture in the penal code in 2002.

Amnesty International, the London-based human-rights group, has expressed concern that the 41-bis regime could in some circumstances amount to ''cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment'' for prisoners.