CRIMINAL CONSCIENCE: Many criminals, some of whom were murderers, refused to eat from the hand of a suspected sex offender.
TALLINN - More than one hundred inmates at Tallinn Prison have launched a hunger strike because they refuse to be served food by a fellow prisoner whom they believe to be a rapist.
The strike began on July 24, when dozens of prisoners refused food. The number has since grown to 153. Some of the prisoners have petitioned the prison director, while others simply will not eat.
Prison authorities would not specify what offense the detainee had committed. According to prison director Erkki Osolainen, the other inmates are striking because the detainee in question "was earlier stationed in the Murru Prison One department, which in the criminal hierarchy was thought to be the department for less respected criminals."
Some prisoners are refusing meals only occasionally, while others are accepting bread or eating food bought at the prison store. Tallinn Prison is taking the leftovers to the shelter at Tallinn's Social Work Center.
Osolainen said he doesn't believe that the criminal underworld is serious about condemning sexual offenders. He says previous hunger strikes were power games played by the prisoners, citing a March 2008 strike at Murru Prison over prison uniforms and another over eating utensils.
Osolainen added that all detainees will be treated as the law prescribes. Rules covering prisoner hunger strikes are laid out by European Council recommendations and the World Medical Association's Malta declaration.
According to the rules, medical help and risk counseling must be available to prisoners. But officials and medical workers cannot force the strikers to eat, no matter how long they refuse food.
Estonia has a history of organized-crime involvement in the prison system. Large strikes were held by prisoners in 1999 and 2000 when authorities tried to crack down.
Tallinn Prison holds over 1,000 inmates.