19 Feb 2020

Prisoner on hunger strike over Māori sovereignty now refusing liquids

12:18 pm on 19 February 2020

The whānau of a prisoner on hunger strike wanting to raise awareness about the need for Māori self-determination and sovereignty - says he has started refusing liquids.

Rimutaka Prison

Rimutaka Prison Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Francis Shaw, 53, has been in prison since January on cultivation of cannabis-related charges, and has been refusing food for almost a month.

He was consuming water, electrolytes and glucose tabs - but has told whānau he has started refusing liquids.

His brother, Cameron Shaw of Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāti Toa, says he has stopped eating at Rimutaka Prison in Upper Hutt because he wants to see a Māori parliament and sovereignty over their own systems.

He said his brother was uplifted by the Crown in the 1970s and had been in and out of jail for the past 40-plus years.

It isn't the first hunger strike he has been on. In 1989 he wanted to raise awareness for a marae-based justice system while in prison.

This time, it was a different kaupapa.

"He is highlighting the need to have a separate Māori parliament, he has also made sure he is not asking for it - he is saying we need and should have it - fundamentally that is where his kaupapa lies.

"He is willing to martyr himself for the cause - and that is of concern for me, I am his family. It would seem impossible to achieve in our lifetime, but having just said that it will highlight the fact that we do need it."

He said it was not about people working in the system, but the system itself.

"The justice system is ridiculously racist. They have been working hard to make it better by doing things like Hokai Rangi, but really it's all surface stuff. Our iwi should have a better say in it, not just politicians, that are in for one term, maybe two. At the end of the day Māori know how to deal with their own people better than anyone else. What is good for Māori, is good for the whole population."

The family have not wanted to go to the media about the hunger strike until now, but are frustrated with the communications from Corrections and that it is trying to fast track him out on bail.

"The likes of government agencies and Corrections are willing to bend over backwards to get him bail and get his charges quashed, that is basically bending the rules to get rid of him so he doesn't stay on the hunger strike in that jail. That is one concern I have."

Shaw supports his brother, but is concerned for his welfare.

"I am not sure what will get him off, that is the worrying thing. I do think that getting people to talk to him, to come into the prison and try and talk him down to come up with a cohesive plan that moves forward with the kaupapa that he is trying to do."

Corrections would not be interviewed but in a statement, it said it was continuing to work closely to support the safety and well-being of a person at Rimutaka Prison currently declining to eat.

The prison's director, Viv Whelan, said in the statement it had comprehensive procedures for caring for people who chose not to eat and the man was residing in the Intervention and Support Unit (ISU) where he was receiving care from registered nurses, mental health clinicians and other staff.

"The man has been consuming water, electrolytes and glucose tabs, however intermittently he has told us that he is going to stop drinking water and taking these supplements, which is very concerning. His health continues to be monitored very closely, and he will be transferred to hospital if he cannot be cared for at the prison," she said.

Whelan said she appreciated it was a difficult and distressing situation for the whānau and she had taken steps to ensure they could maintain regular visits and phone calls.

She said an application for the man to be granted bail was currently before the court.