Opinion – Visiting Britain’s political prisoner


15-12-19 10:57:00,

Visiting Britain’s
political prisoner

By John Pilger

28/29, 2019 “Information
Clearing House


set out at dawn. Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh
is in the flat hinterland of south east London,
a ribbon of walls and wire with no horizon. At
what is called the visitors centre, I
surrendered my passport, wallet, credit cards,
medical cards, money, phone, keys, comb, pen,

I need two pairs of glasses. I
had to choose which pair stayed behind. I left
my reading glasses. From here on, I couldn’t
read, just as Julian couldn’t read for the first
few weeks of his incarceration. His glasses were
sent to him, but inexplicably took months to

There are large TV screens in the
visitors centre. The TV is always on, it seems,
and the volume turned up. Game shows,
commercials for cars and pizzas and funeral
packages, even TED talks, they seem perfect for
a prison: like visual valium.

I joined a queue of sad, anxious
people, mostly poor women and children, and
grandmothers. At the first desk, I was
fingerprinted, if that is still the word for
biometric testing.

“Both hands, press down!” I was
told. A file on me appeared on the screen.

I could now cross to the main
gate, which is set in the walls of the prison.
The last time I was at Belmarsh to see Julian,
it was raining hard. My umbrella wasn’t allowed
beyond the visitors centre. I had the choice of
getting drenched, or running like hell.
Grandmothers have the same choice.

At the second desk, an official
behind the wire, said, “What’s that?”

“My watch,” I replied guiltily.

“Take it back,” she said. 

So I ran back through the rain,
returning just in time to be biometrically
tested again. This was followed by a full body
scan and a full body search.

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