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28 October 1999 Edition

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POW Richard Johnson - home at last

By David Fanning

IRISH REPUBLICAN prisoner Richard Clark Johnson was released from federal custody in the United States on Tuesday, 19 October, after serving ten years.

A welcome home party organised by Irish Northern Aid Regional Director Kay O'Brien took place at Nash's pub in Dorchester, Massachusetts, three days later.

Johnson was one of the Boston Three, republican activists who were arrested in 1989 and charged with helping the IRA develop advanced missile technology. The particular law Johnson was accused of breaking was prohibiting ``possession of property in aid of foreign insurgents'', an archaic piece of legislation drafted in the First World War era and which had never before been applied to anyone.

     
He refused to be broken by his prison experience and he made the best of his time by teaching science and other courses to fellow inmates.
Despite a massive field operation on the part of the FBI, federal prosecutors were only able to assemble a case which was flimsy at best, including as evidence such items as Irish history books and copies of An Phoblacht in Johnson's possession. Accepting his guilt out of hand, however, the judge in the case not only found Johnson guilty but sentenced him to twice the maximum recommended time in prison.

Although the Irish peace process was well under way during the later years of his sentence and Irish republicans were being released from prison by both the Irish and British governments, Johnson served every single day of his sentence in the United States.

Despite massive campaigning from Irish-Americans, his time in jail was not reduced by a day. His strength and conviction never faltered, however, and he corresponded regularly with many republican activists in America and abroad. He refused to be broken by his prison experience and he made the best of his time by teaching science and other courses to fellow inmates.

The welcome home party at Nash's was standing room only, with people traveling from Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Connecticut to attend. Greetings were sent by many unable to attend. Richard was there with his brother Brian and his parents Anne and Roy, and was looking well. Joe McHugh acted as Master of Ceremonies for the evening, and live entertainment was provided by the Donegal Corduroys.

New York's Marge Suter presented Richard with a plaque before the guest of honour stood up to speak.

Richard Johnson thanked those who had written over the years and the people in attendance that evening. He emphasised his determination to continue supporting the republican cause. Down-playing the extent of his sacrifice, he said: ``I paid my nickel, now all I can do is ask that you do the same.''

He described how being a republican means accepting whatever sacrifices must be made and continuing on towards our goal of national reunification.

Fine sentiments from an undaunted revolutionary.
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