Religious leaders plead for intervention in hunger strike

Leading figures from a host of religious orders in England and Wales yesterday called on the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, to intervene personally in the hunger strike being staged by asylum seekers at Rochester prison, to avert "an immediate tragedy".

The Bishop of Rochester also expressed concern, and offered to be a go- between to save the lives of the men, who have been protesting for three weeks because they are being held at the Kent prison despite having committed no crimes. The six were still refusing food and fluids last night and were being treated in the prison's health centre.

The Conference of Religious in England and Wales, the co-ordinating body for some 180 orders of Anglican and Catholic monks and nuns, condemned the situation involving the asylum seekers as "inhumane". In a letter to Mr Howard, the conference's president, Sister Teresa Clements, wrote: "We wish to register our sadness and incomprehension that the inhumane situation at Rochester prison is being allowed to continue, thereby threatening the lives of 16 asylum seekers. We ask you, as Home Secretary, to prevent an immediate tragedy through your personal intervention."

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