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Friday, December 9, 2016

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Authorities at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay said they would no longer issue daily hunger strike updates on detainees, effectively announcing the end of the unprecedentedly broad prisoner protest.

Only 19 of the U.S. military jail’s 164 inmates remained on hunger strike Monday, a number that has held steady since September 11, according to spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Samuel House.

Of these, 18 remain on a force feeding list and none was under observation in the hospital according to House, who considers the figures in keeping with numbers from before the protest wave.

On July 10, at the height of the more than six-month protest, 106 prisoners were on hunger strike, with 46 being fed by tube and a handful landing in the hospital, according to figures from authorities.

Since then “the number of hunger strikers has dropped significantly, and we believe today’s numbers represent those who wish to continue to strike,” House said in the last daily update.

“Since 2007, there has been a small number of detainees who have chosen to hunger strike long-term with occasional increases and decreases,” he added.

The strike, which began on February 6 as a spontaneous reaction to a cell sweep in which guards allegedly mishandled copies of the Koran, soon grew into a mass protest against the legal limbo within the walls of the prison, located on Cuba’s southeastern tip.

Lawyers have argued that the majority of protesters were denouncing their 11-year detainment without charge or trial.

“As long as there is still one person on hunger strike, held without charge or subjected to an unfair trial, the Guantanamo crisis will continue,” said Zeke Johnson, an Amnesty International director for security and human rights.

Last month, two long-held Algerian detainees were returned to their homeland, the first such transfer since U.S. President Barack Obama renewed his pledge to close the controversial jail in May.

“The men achieved their objectives. They put Guantanamo back on the radar screen,” David Remes, a lawyer for more than a dozen of the prisoners, told AFP Monday.

Of Guantanamo’s 164 prisoners, 84 were designated as transferable to their homeland by the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.

“The goal is to end human rights violations and on that point President Obama is still falling short. He can and should move forward with transferring cleared detainees,” Johnson said.

Some 46 others who are considered too dangerous to set free, are being held indefinitely without charge or trial for lack of evidence against them.

Photo Credit: AFP/Chantal Valery

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