It is difficult to imagine juxtaposing Christmas with torture but that is just what a federal judge in Miami did on Monday when she authorized the force-feeding of a group of Bangladeshi detainees at the Krome Detention Center. The seven men had been on a hunger strike for nearly three weeks to protest their ongoing detention after escaping from Bangladesh. The men have expressed a willingness to die in the United States rather than be returned to Bangladesh, where they would face certain death.
The men’s decision to flee to the United States was not one taken lightly nor was the decision to fast in order to bring light to injustice. Fasting has long been a way to engage authorities in a non-threatening manner and to affirm one’s commitment to God while asking for God’s intervention to resolve an unjust situation.
United Nations human rights experts, however, have referred to force feeding as cruel and inhumane, akin to torture. “The desire of the inmates not to eat must be respected for as long as it is clear that they are making that choice voluntarily. Even if it is intended for the benefit of the detainees, feeding induced by threats, coercion, force or use of physical restraints are tantamount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” said Juan Mendez, a United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
While it may be difficult for many of us to identify with the actions taken by these desperate men, we should respect their decision and not submit them to further violence and degradation. As of Wednesday evening, the fearful men did break their fast due to the threat of force-feeding; in other words, political asylum seekers fleeing violence were threatened with violence in order to induce them to eat.
The Rev. Dr. Laurinda Hafner, Senior Pastor, Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ
The Rev. José Manuel Capella-Pratts, Pastor, First Spanish Presbyterian Church (USA) in Miami
The Venerable Canon Dr. J. Fritz Bazin, Archdeacon of Immigration and Social Justice, Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida
Father Frank Corbishley, Chaplain, St. Bede Episcopal Chapel
Rabbi Moshe Thomas Heyn, Temple Israel of Greater Miami
The Rev. Corinna Olson, Priest-in-Charge, St. Luke the Physician Episcopal Church
The Rev. Gail Tapscott, Unitarian Universalist Minister
The Rev. Jo-Ann Murphy, Assistant Rector, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church
Rev. Renwick Bell, Sunshine Cathedral, MCC