Content warning: Racism, solitary confinement, islamophobia, prison violence
Demonstrators gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice on 24 February to support Kevan Thakrar. Currently imprisoned at HMP Belmarsh, Kevan is taking a case against his continuous solitary confinement.
The crowd chanted “End solitary confinement, free Kevan now!”.
Kevan's case could make it much more difficult to incarcerate others in what the UN & Amnesty consider torture and/or cruel and inhuman treatment. SPONSORS include Justice for Kevan Thakrar, @PaydayRTK, @woc_gws, Legal Action for Women, @RCGFRFI and @psn_ldn. pic.twitter.com/rYn6Wp8F33
— Payday men's network (@PaydayRTK) April 17, 2023
Solitary confinement is supposed to be kept to a minimum under prison rules, and it requires re-authorisation every 14 days. As of 25 February, Kevan had spent 750 days in solitary confinement, during which he spends 23 hours a day in his cell – with the remaining hour spent outside the cell but still alone. That adds up to a shocking 18,000 hours.
Kevan is a practising Muslim. Muslim prisoners are much more likely to be kept in isolation conditions. The Guardian reported that in 2015, nearly half of prisoners in the UK’s Close Supervision Centres (CSCs) were Muslim, despite the fact that Muslims made up only 4% of the population of England and Wales. In 2017, the Runnymede Trust found that Black and Muslim prisoners are more likely to be placed in segregation.
When solitary confinement continues beyond 42 days, it requires approval by the secretary of state. So Kevan is taking a judicial review challenging his continued isolation.
Extreme isolation within a racist system
Kevan was convicted of joint enterprise murder and attempted murder in 2008 but has always protested his innocence. Campaigners point out that joint enterprise charges have been legally discredited; they’re also used disproportionately against people of colour.
According to campaign group Joint Enterprise Not-guilty by Association (JENGbA):
This [joint enterprise] doctrine is a tool used by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to imprison people to mandatory life sentences for crimes committed by others.
In 2010, while imprisoned at HMP Frankland, Kevan was attacked by prison officers. He fought back against the racist attack but ended up being charged himself for causing actual bodily harm to his assailants. When this new case got to court, the jury found Kevan not guilty because he had acted in self-defence. However, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) ignored the court’s verdict and has kept Kevan in the CSC ever since.
The CSC is a prison punishment regime designed to control prisoners that the MOJ considers the “most dangerous”. This control is achieved through extreme isolation. The CSC system is inflicted on a relatively small number of prisoners, 58 in total.
Moreover, Kevan has not just been placed in the CSC system after defending himself against a racist attack. The secretary of state has authorised his further isolation in a ‘designated cell’ since April 2021. This enhanced isolation regime is only being applied to 12 CSC prisoners in the UK, It is this decision, to place him in a designated segregation cell, that Kevan is seeking to challenge in his judicial review.
Isolation that’s ‘almost impossible to survive’
Kevan was not permitted to attend the hearing in person, and instead he appeared via a video link from Belmarsh. He said, in a statement provided to the court, that the psychological effects of his imprisonment have been “almost impossible to survive”.
The brutality inflicted upon the prisoners within solitary causes the majority of people to develop major mental illness. I would not wish this devastation upon anyone.
After he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in 2010, numerous expert reports have stated that the CSC is not a suitable environment for Kevan. In fact, it is actively damaging his mental health. Kevan described the effects of his confinement on his mental wellbeing:
I am almost constantly anxious, hypervigilant, lethargic, and feeling myself deteriorating physically and mentally. I am regularly suffering with severe headaches, flashbacks and nightmares.
Subjected to racist attacks
The damage to Kevan’s mental health from isolation is not the only oppression the CSC regime has caused. He has also been subjected to continued racist abuse by other prisoners. Even Kevan’s grandmother was subjected to racist abuse when she was on a visit to the CSC.
Kevan won a civil claim against the MOJ late last year. In that case, the court found that the MOJ had failed to protect Kevan from these attacks by organised racist prisoners within the CSC.
Kevan’s mother Jean Thakrar said:
Kev has endured more than anyone should ever have to go through. We are all proud that he’s somehow kept resisting the torture of solitary confinement. It feels impossible for the courts not to recognise the injustice this week.
A ‘front-line in the battle against state violence’
Nic, one of those who turned out to support Kevan, explained the significance of Kevan’s case:
Solitary confinement in prison is the front-line in the battle against state violence where people are forced to resist or capitulate. Kev is spearheading resistance from behind prison walls and his bravery and resilience in defending himself and others is why so many of us outside are determined to support this action.
Kevan has been victimised for over a decade for standing up to the racist abuse inherent in the prison system. His struggle against solitary confinement is not only a personal one; it could also have far-reaching effects for other prisoners in isolation. He deserves our support and solidarity in his fight for freedom.
You can find out more about his case at http://www.justiceforkevan.org/.
The judicial review hearing will continue on Wednesday 26 April at the High Court, and a further demonstration is planned that morning.
Featured image via Payday Men’s Network (with permission)
- Read about the grassroots campaign against ‘joint enterprise’ laws.
We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support
The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.
The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.
So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.