Calls for solidarity with a prisoner ‘facing retaliation’ for standing up against the prison system
Family and supporters of Kevan Thakrar held a demonstration outside the Ministry of Justice offices in London on Wednesday 28 April. Thakrar is being held in segregation at HMP Full Sutton in Yorkshire.
The protesters demanded an end to the targeting of Thakrar by the prison, and also that he’s moved out of HMP Full Sutton to HMP Whitemoor where he can receive the support he needs.
Freedom for Kevan
A statement by the demonstrators reads:
Friends and family of Kevan Thakrar came together to demonstrate in front of the Ministry of Justice in what is another escalation in the fight for justice for Kevan Thakrar. Kevan is facing targeted retaliation due to a white supremacist prison system that tries to silence and placate anyone expressing dissent – especially Muslim men of colour.
Thakrar is serving a life sentence for joint enterprise murder, but supporters say his conviction was a miscarriage of justice.
The UK’s joint enterprise law has been legally discredited since Thakrar was convicted. And it’s been shown that joint enterprise laws have been used to convict a disproportionate number of People of Colour.
Protesters ignited colourful smoke flares and chanted “Free Kevan Thakrar now” and the prison abolitionist slogan: “brick by brick, wall by wall; free them, free them, free them all!”
Thakrar was moved to Full Sutton’s Segregation Unit at the beginning of April. He was left without electricity or a toilet lid in breach of prison regulations. The Canary has previously reported on the appalling conditions he’s being held in.
He was moved to segregation after being accused of threatening an officer. But Thakrar’s supporters say that he’s being targeted because of his outspoken criticism of the prison system.
Thakrar has had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) since he was seriously injured in a racist attack by prison officers. An action alert by his supporters claims that his disability is not being acknowledged by prison authorities at Full Sutton, and he’s not receiving proper mental health care in the Segregation Unit.
Being punished for defending himself
Thakrar has been held in the prison service’s Close Supervision Centres (CSC) for over 11 years – ever since he defended himself against an assault by officers. Since then he’s faced attacks by white supremacist prisoners within the CSC system.
CSCs are prisons within prisons where prisoners face the most restrictive conditions found in the UK. CSC prisoners are kept isolated for years with very little human contact.
The Canary spoke to Kevan’s mum – Jean Thakrar – at the demonstration. She said:
My son Kevan Thakrar was sent to prison 13 years ago for a crime he didn’t commit. They used the joint enterprise doctrine to do this. 11 years ago he was charged with assaulting prison officers at HMP Frankland although he was defending himself. But he went to court and 12 members of the jury unanimously found him not guilty. But the prison weren’t happy at this result, and they decided to keep him in the CSC, which is a prison within a prison.
The reason they weren’t happy was that they wanted Kev to be found guilty of something that [in fact] they had done. They had attacked Kev mentally and physically. And they didn’t want the outside world to know about that. They just wanted Kev to be found guilty. They thought that all prisoners are bad and prison officers are good, so [they thought] ‘we’ll get our day in court and we’ll get him for this’. But they were wrong, and they didn’t like it, and they’ve put him in the CSC for 11 years. He’s had no risk assessment for 11 years. They just keep him in there and forget about him basically
[In the CSC] they are allowed one hour out of their cell each day to shower, have food, go to the gym or whatever activities they need to do.
Always “fighting for other prisoners”
Kevan’s mum explained why he’s been moved to segregation:
Kev [has always been] fighting for other prisoners and for himself against the prison system, because there’s no accountability for anything they do. Whether it’s racist brutality against prisoners – they always turn it round and say it’s the prisoner who has attacked the prison officer when that’s not how it happens.
The prisoners can only take so much from the prison officers, and then they just flip out. They can’t take it any more. They are locked in this little cell, can you imagine a tiger locked in a cage. They pace back and forth, back and forth because they’ve got nothing to do.
They have now moved [Kevan] from the CSC cell to a segregation cell which has no window, no electricity, no toilet seat or lid. Its basically just a stone bed, and there’s just a little hatch at the bottom of the door where they put his food through And this is where they’ve moved him to now. They’ve not given any reason apart from they say that he doesn’t engage with the prison officers and he doesn’t engage with activities. But there have been no activities since the start of the lockdown in March last year. They don’t give any reason for anything, they just do what they want to mess with prisoners’ heads, to mess with Kev’s head because they know that he gets the message out, and he gets protests against the prison, against the justice system and they don’t like it.
The Canary contacted HMP Full Sutton’s governor and the Ministry of Justice to ask for a comment on the allegations. A Prisons Service spokesperson denied the allegations made by campaigners. They said:
These claims are untrue – services and support for prisoners have continued throughout the pandemic and cells are maintained to the standards required.
Racism towards prisoners
Statistics show that People of Colour face a disproportionate risk of death in prison or custody. Their deaths involve contributory factors like “force used”, “physical restraint”, and “medical neglect”.
To give just one example of the racialised violence faced by People of Colour in prison, a prison officer from HMP Nottingham were found guilty of assaulting a Black Somalian prisoner last year. The court heard that the three officers involved had expressed racist attitudes in a WhatsApp group. All three were found guilty of misconduct and perverting a prison investigation.
The prosecutor in the case told the jury that the messages displayed:
the glorifying of violence; the glorifying of what they had done; the glorifying of that racist attitude.
“We demand an end to Closed Supervision Centres”
Jac Abe, one of the protestors, explained why they attended, linking their demonstration to the mass movement against the proposed policing bill:
We are demanding that Kevan is immediately transferred out of HMP Full Sutton to HMP Whitemoor.
We demand an end to Closed Supervision Centres (CSCs) and the inhumane use of solitary confinement. We also know that if the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is passed it will mean more people in Kev’s situation, because the bill would authorise younger people getting life sentences and make it harder to get parole.
Prisoners like Thakrar are taking big risks by speaking out against a violent and racist prison system. They need support and solidarity from those of us on the outside. It’s important that we don’t forget about them, as they stand against a dehumanising system that acts with virtual impunity.
Tom Anderson is part of the Shoal Collective, a cooperative producing writing for social justice and a world beyond capitalism. Twitter: shoalcollective
Featured Image via supporters of Kevan Thakrar
- Take action to help get Kevan moved out of the Segregation Unit and take a look at the Justice for Kevan website.
- Check out this reading list on prison abolition put together by Abolitionist Futures.
- Read about the grassroots campaign against ‘joint enterprise’ laws.
- Find out how to take community action against prison expansion in the UK.
- Learn more about the Prisoner Solidarity Network.
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