British Embassy in hunger strike talks at Dubai prison

Discussion came after an Irish inmate, Christopher Renehan, began a hunger strike last Monday to appeal his six-year conviction for issuing bad cheques.

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DUBAI // The British Embassy has met with prisoners in Dubai Central Prison to warn them against hunger strikes.

The discussion came after an Irish inmate, Christopher Renehan, reportedly began a hunger strike last Monday to appeal his six-year conviction for issuing bad cheques.

And while authorities at the prison said they had no knowledge of the hunger strike becoming a mass action, two prisoners said Renehan had been joined by 40 inmates convicted of similar charges, who were urging reform on cheque-fraud laws.

Yesterday, the prison official Brig Omar Al Attar said the rumours of spreading strike action were unfounded and an issue with “a single inmate” had been resolved.

“We sat with this guy yesterday and spoke to him and said, ‘If you go on strike, what will change?’ And I think he understood that,” Brig Al Attar said. “They don’t need to do such things. Once the court has decided, what more can you do?”

British Embassy officials said they had heard about the hunger strike and decided to give an educational talk in the prison about the harm that can be done.

Ruzina Hasan, from the British Embassy, said: “We are aware of the situation and consular officials visited them last Thursday to inform them about the implications of conducting a hunger strike.”

Ms Hasan would not say how many people were involved in the strike or if any of them were British.

But she said the embassy was in contact with prison authorities and prisoners, and was “monitoring the situation”.

Renehan’s cellmate, Oliver L from Belgium, said he had joined in the hunger strike.

“I have been on strike now for six days with Chris,” Oliver, 51, a hotel supply company manager, said on Sunday. “There are 40 more prisoners now on strike. We have challenges and demands that need to be addressed.”

Oliver said the men had met a senior official to discuss their demands.

“He told us that he will convey our demands to the public prosecution officials,” the inmate said. “He came back and warned us that if we write one unilateral letter this would be viewed as a crime against the Government, and advised us to write separate letters and they will ensure that they are individually reviewed by prosecutors.”

The prisoners are calling for appraisal of the nation’s cheque laws, including enforcement of article 88 of federal law.

Article 88 states that if more than one cheque has been issued in the same allegation then they would all be treated as the same case and not separate cases.

Inmates say the notion of criminal intent in the bounced cheque law should be revisited.

"How can there be criminal or malicious intent when you write a security cheque for a credit card and then lose your job?" Oliver asked.
The men say dishonoured cheques issued by companies should not be viewed as crimes, but as civil cases.

“What we want is our release to deal with our cases,” said Oliver. “You can hold our passports, give us a travel ban, do whatever is needed so we can run our companies and feed our families.

"We want the law to be properly applied or changed to protect investors from going to jail.”

Meanwhile, Renehan’s father Michael is worried for his son.

“It’s a very troublesome time,” the father said from Dublin. “He is very tired and weak. I haven’t a clue how long he will carry on for. He’s very strong-headed.”