Saturday, February 3, 2007

Hunger strikers being 'left to die' by 'unaccountable' government: advocates

Fri Feb 2, 2007;_ylt=AuWOaE5P9JijFS.mHWd6jNcL1L0F;_ylu=X3oDMTA3MXN1bHE0BHNlYwN0bWE-

OTTAWA (CP) - Supporters say three terror suspects detained on security certificates are being "left to die" by an unaccountable federal government that is refusing to act on their complaints or intervene in their months-old hunger protests.

Mohammad Mahjoub, 45, is in Day 71 while Mahmoud Jaballah, 44, and Hassan Almrei, 33, are in Day 60 of hunger strikes over conditions at the holding facility near Kingston, Ont., where they've been detained without trial or full disclosure of evidence.

Asked about the issue at an unrelated news conference Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said government officials are keeping a close eye on the detainees' health.

"The government is pursuing its actions according to law," Harper said. "We are reassuring ourselves on a constant basis that these people are being treated in a humane manner."

New Democrat MP Bill Siksay describes the security certificates - which allow detention of national security suspects without charge or disclosure of evidence - as draconian and unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court of Canada has been asked to rule on the constitutional validity of the measures.

Supporters who attended a Parliament Hill news conference say the men have been denied medical care and phone privileges and have been subjected to daily humiliation by staff at the facility dubbed "Guantanamo Bay North" for its supposed similarities to the U.S. holding facility in Cuba for alleged terrorists.

Matthew Behrens of the group Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada says Ottawa is unaccountable under the security legislation and has ignored the plight of the hunger strikers, leaving them - the only federal prisoners without an ombudsman's protection - to die in vain.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day contacted The Canadian Press on Friday to paint a very different picture.

"The slightest suggestion that there's any kind of maltreatment is simply unfounded."

Day said the recently built facility includes a washer and dryer, microwave and "refrigerator stocked with a variety of juices, soy milk, honey and chocolate sauce."

There is an adjacent, open yard area where detainees can spend up to 4-½ hours a day, Day said. The facility also includes an exercise room with colour TV as well as a medical examination and treatment room.

"There is an on-call, on-standby physician and psychiatrist. And at 10 a.m. every morning a health-care practitioner visits the unit," Day said.

Detainees are allowed regular visits from spiritual leaders, and the Red Cross has toured the site, as have members of Parliament, he added.

"Nobody is suggesting that being in detention while you're on appeal is a pleasurable experience. But I can tell you it is very respectful of the rights of detainees and also of their treatment."