Public representatives are being asked to sign the Robben Island Declaration for the Freedom of Marwan Barghouthi and All Palestinian Political Prisoners on April 17.
The date is marked annually as Palestinian Prisoners’ Day. The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation will be sending South African public representatives a copy of the Declaration calling for the release of thousands of Palestinian political prisoners languishing in Israeli jails.
The move is being supported by the Palestinian Embassy; the South African human rights organisation, Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions against Israel in South Africa (BDS South Africa) and the Palestine Solidarity Alliance (PSA).
Director of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Neeshan Balton, said, “We hope that members of the South African parliament and other office bearers, put their names to the Declaration. There are 16 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council imprisoned by Israel and our public representatives, in an act of solidarity, should call for the release of their Palestinian counterparts. The first member of the Palestinian Legislative Council to be arrested was Marwan Barghouthi. April 15, 2015 marked the 13th consecutive year of Marwan’s imprisonment. Altogether, he has spent 20 years in Israeli jails.”
Those who sign the Robben Island Declaration, will form part of an already distinguished list of signatories including Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu; former political prisoners like Angela Davis; artists and authors such as Alice Walker; and politicians, including former South African President, Kgalema Motlanthe.
Former Robben Island prisoners, Shirish Nanabhai, Ahmed Kathrada, and Laloo Chiba reiterate their call for the freedom of Marwan Barghouthi and All Palestinian Political Prisoners.
Struggle stalwart, Ahmed Kathrada, who in 2013 launched the international campaign for Barghouthi’s freedom from Robben Island, reiterated his support for the campaign, urging all South African leaders to endorse it. “The release of political prisoners was a prerequisite for the collapse of apartheid and the establishment of democracy. We believe that the freedom of the Palestinian political prisoners is vital to peace and justice in the region,” he said.
Kathrada also recalled his shock at first hearing of Palestinian prisoners who had spent over 30 years in jail. “We think that 27 years in prison – the time that Nelson Mandela served – is a long time. There are Palestinian prisoners, such as Nael Barghouthi, who have spent over 30 years in jail!”
Naazim Adam from the PSA spoke of the similarities between South Africa’s fight for liberation and the Palestinian struggle, stating, “We know that the international community supported the campaign to free Mandela during apartheid. Similarly, we call on our politicians to pledge their support for the freedom of Marwan Barghouthi – the ‘Palestinian Mandela’.”
Kwara Kekana from BDS South Africa highlighted the role of security company, G4S, in servicing and equipping Israeli prisons and checkpoints. “Over 20 South African businesses announced on the eve of international Palestinian Prisoners’ Day that they have terminated their contracts with G4S Security over its involvement in Israeli prisons and human rights abuses. We commend these businesses, but urge those who have not yet cut ties with the company, to do so immediately.”
The Palestinian Embassy’s Media and Culture Officer, Tamer Almassri, said, “There are today over 6000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Since 1967, Israel arrested over 800 000 Palestinians, in one of the most striking examples of mass imprisonment in contemporary history. ”
Following the launch of the international campaign calling for the release of Palestinian political prisoners, hosted in South Africa in 2013, several other countries have followed suit including Ireland, Italy, France and the United Kingdom. Preparations are underway to take the campaign to Latin America, Senegal and the Arab world.