Jailed for Legitimate and Lawful Political Beliefs
Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
Saturday 8 March 2014
(begins 1:27 PM EST)
SB: And now we're going over to Newry to talk to Stephen Murney. Stephen, thanks very much for being with us.
SM: Thanks for having me on the show, Sandy.
SB: And Stephen, you were just released last week from fourteen months in a maximum security prison. What was the great crime you committed?
SM: Basically what I was in gaol for was as a direct result of my legitimate and lawful political beliefs and activities. I hold the position of Public Relations Officer (PRO) for a political party called éirígí here in Newry. Part of that role as PRO, as with any political group, entails writing press statements, taking photographs of events such as protests, marches and pickets and also incidents such as PSNI harassment and police brutality. It was me doing the job and fulfilling that role ended up the PSNI took exception to that and arrested me and charged me with a number of serious offences.
SB: But among other things you were charged with what we would consider a very weird crime: possession of material that could be of use to terrorists. In this case: Photographs!
SM: Yes. Photographs. Obviously we were taking photographs of a political demonstration – a peaceful political picket – and there's always “x” numbers of PSNI members at these events - of course it's inevitable that they'd be included in the photographs. And also incidents of harassment with these stop and searches that have come under scrutiny from human rights organisations. It was these photographs that formed the basis of the charges laid against me.
SB: And now Stephen, you were acquitted last week, which was a great victory – but ...
SM: Oh, yes!
SB: ...the judge unfortunately ruled that while you were innocent someone could be guilty of this great crime of possessing material of use to terrorists just because they had photographs of the PSNI - it wasn't out of the question.
SM: Yeah, well if the case had have been successful - their action against me - this would have had profound implications. Especially when it comes to human rights. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression and that right includes freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information, ideas, (indecipherable). If the case had been successful and if I had been (found) guilty this would have had huge implications for journalists, press photographers and political activists everywhere.
JM: Well, Stephen, John McDonagh here – in a sense it was successful. It kept you off the streets for over a year and that would put fear into anyone taking pictures. Now, we have to realise, particularly in the six county state- it's a security state. There's cameras everywhere. The PSNI are filming everything. Everyone is filming everyone. Except a journalist going to the same demonstration as the police are who are filming...now you're being charged – it was great that you were found not guilty. But listen, you lost over a year of your life fighting these charges!
SM: Of course it's fourteen months that I'll never get back. But there are other Republican prisoners in Maghaberry and they're now entering their third and fourth year of imprisonment without facing trial. Like this policy of internment by remand. It's been cleverly designed to remove Republicans from their communities and families while at the same time the PSNI and the British judicial system can use the excuse that the victim went through “due process” as they call it. We've been saying since the day I was arrested back in 2012 that there was no basis for those charges. And that remains the fact today - that there never was a case. And you made a very important point, John. This was designed to remove me from the streets because of the political work that I was doing and because of the alternative socialist, Republican position that we were promoting rather than the position the Constitutional Nationalists approached. So our politics - that's what the PSNI had an issue with - was our politics. And they sought to remove me from the streets to try and deter others from doing the same thing that we were doing. And you're exactly right to say that.
JM: Stephen, the other part of the strategy now...we've been covering The Troubles on WBAI for over thirty years, and part of the strategy – when someone got out of prison - we were able to interview them. The British have now instituted a policy that part of the stipulation of you getting out of prison – not you but other people like Marian Price – that they're not allowed to speak to the media or they would revoke their licence. What is good about you is that you got out and you were found innocent so we can interview you and ask you: What are the conditions like in the prison?
SM: Well, you know in Maghaberry it's a very restrictive regime that's in place. There's a number of issues there that still aren't resolved. You've got issues such as controlled movement. You've got issues such as forced strip searching. You've got isolation of Republican prisoners where some prisoners have been held in isolation, by themselves, for a number of years now. That amounts to nothing more than psychological torture. The conditions there still need to be addressed and the prison administration still need to make changes to the regime that they have in place.
SB: Stephen, éirígí is committed to a non-violent political campaign but you have refused to condemn any Republican who may feel forced to carry out any kind of armed actions.
SM: Yeah, we all know that...sorry, go ahead Sandy.
SB: Why, when you're committed to a non-violent campaign, why is it that you don't condemn anybody else?
SM: Forty years of political condemnation hasn't achieved anything so we're not going to jump on the bandwagon now – it's pointless. Taking part in political condemnation doesn't make any sense. So we're not going to engage ourselves in that. We're not going to jump on the bandwagon of political condemnation.
SB: That was Stephen Murney from éirígí. Stephen, thank you very much for coming on and congratulations for finally being acquitted and set free after fourteen months in prison! So again, thank you very much.
SM: Thanks for having me on the show. Thanks for having me.
(ends 1:35 PM EST)