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20 November 1997 Edition

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South Armagh POW regularly brutalised

Only three visits in seven months



By Mick Naughton.

29 year old Seamus McArdle from South Armagh was arrested by heavily armed British soldiers, some in civilian clothing, near Cregganduff near Crossmaglen on 10 April this year. In one of the worst ever cases of brutality Seamus and four friends were savagely beaten. They were then taken to Gough barracks interrogation centre and again brutalised.

McArdle suffered extensive injuries, receiving staples to his head. His nose and jaw were broken and his ear lacerated. The scene of his arrest was described by a local man as being ``like a butcher's yard, there was so much blood.''

The United Nations in Geneva put an `on notice' tag about his horrific injuries when in British custody, details were also recorded by the Committee on the Administration of Justice and the British-Irish Human Rights Watch.

This week McArdle's condition has given his family and friends grave cause for concern with the news that his days are being spent on 22 hour lockup in a Special Secure Unit (SSU) in Belmarsh prison outside London.

Following his seven days interrogation in Gough barracks he was flown to Paddington Green interrogation centre where he was held for another two and a half days before being charged in connection with the 1996 explosion in the Isle of Dogs in London.

Another South Armagh man, Paddy McKinley, was due to go on trial on the Monday after McArdle was charged but this was adjourned until trial next January when and McArdle will go before a London court. Legal observers believe this is simply a mechanism to send both men down on serious charges after a well-staged media show-trial.

Seamus McArdle's sister Geraldine asked a simple question this week. ``How many visits do you think my brother has had with anyone from our family from last April? 20, 30? How about 3!''

Geraldine also told us that only she and her brother have been `cleared' by the British `Home Office' for visits; Seamus's mother still has not been able to visit her son and has not seen him since April.

These three paltry `discretionary visits' and daily strip searches have been the routine in Belmarsh for some time now, but recently an increase in these degrading searches has resulted in McArdle being denied crucial legal visits. In one week alone he was strip searched 16 times and that was on a week when he received no visits.

His local priest Father Russell in Crossmaglen has been active in trying to get his mother and other family members on the `clearance' list, but to date with no avail.

The conditions for the three visits McArdle has had have also been subject to a 24 hour notice which makes it extremely difficulty for anyone planning to fly over to England. Another feature of his prison conditions is that in many cases his jailers have openly boasted about disobeying the governor rulings. Screws regularly kick McArdle's cell door during the night shouting obscenities at him. English prisoners who are technically on the same category as McArdle are treated differently. Phoning home is a problem as well - he can only buy a limited number of phone cards which are used up very quickly given the long distance of his calls.

On an average week McArdle gets no visits yet is forced to strip every item of clothing off. Then, totally naked, he is forced to put on different clothes. Then 20 yards away the screws demand he repeat the performance. This McArdle has refused to do, and so, like Brian McHugh, strip searched 96 times in eight months, the brutal treatment has continued.

``If pickets to highlight my brother's mistreatment can be organised in London, Dublin and Belfast, it will help,'' Geraldine said.

``Better still is for the people of South Armagh to get involved in what is a denial of basic human rights. Our countryside is strong as everyone knows. Let's show our solidarity and organise to get the prisoners out and back to their families. With prisoners month coming up there are opportunities. Let's use them and force the British government to stop their torture and degrading and inhuman practices.''
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