EKKLESIA – Two hunger-striking Guantánamo Bay detainees have asked a US court to count them as ‘persons’ with free exercise of religious rights, in the wake of a new Supreme Court decision extending those rights to US craft store chain Hobby Lobby.
The prisoners – Emad Hassan of Yemen and Ahmed Rabbani of Pakistan, both detained at the prison without charge or trial since 2002 – have this asked the DC District Court to intervene after the prison’s military authorities prevented them from praying communally during Ramadan, a holy month for Muslims.
The landmark religious rights decision by the Supreme Court decided that Hobby Lobby, a privately-held chain of craft-supply stores said to be run on “Biblical principles,” counted as a ‘person’, and enjoyed the right to ‘free exercise’ of religion under US law.
The banning of communal prayers at Guantánamo is one of a series of recent measures against detainees on hunger strike. Two weeks ago, it emerged that prison guards had taken away the wheelchair of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a disabled prisoner, and had been ‘FCE-ing’ (a Forcible Cell Extraction, in which a team of armed guards storm the cell to ‘subdue’ the detainee) him to and from the force-feeding chair. The authorities have also recently taken hunger-strikers to isolation, and subjected them to repeated genital searches.
In separate litigation, several prisoners – including Hassan, Rabbani and Dhiab – are asking the court to order a halt to abusive force-feeding practices at the prison. A full hearing on the merits of Mr. Dhiab’s case is expected before Labor Day (1 September).
Cori Crider, attorney for the detainees and a director at the human rights non-profit organisation Reprieve, said: “Religious freedom is one of the main reasons the Founding Fathers threw off British rule, and it’s as central to our life as Americans in 2014 as it was in 1776 – so why are the authorities at Guantánamo Bay seeking to punish detainees for hunger striking by curtailing their right to pray? If, under our law, Hobby Lobby is a ‘person’ with a right to religious freedom, surely Gitmo detainees are people too.”