The death of jailed terrorist Sigurd Debus April 16 after a 10-week hunger strike has again stirred up controversy about prison conditions in West Germany.
At the same time it has ended the hunger strike of about 26 other terrorist convicts or suspects and halted for now the controversy over painful forced feeding of hunger striking prisoners.
Debus, convicted of armed robbery and incitement to complicity in criminal use of explosives, had rejected medical assistance, but was still fed intravenously in his last month.
The 27 or 29 (figures vary) hunger strikers had been refusing food since Feb. 11 as part of what they called their "armed anti-imperialist resistance" to the West German government and society. Their aim was to force the state to treat them as prisoners of war and keep all members of the (Baader-Meinhof) Red Army Faction and Revolutionary Cells together or at least in groups of 10 to 15.
The human rights organization Amnesty International had supported the hunger strikers' demands for better conditions for "political prisoners" and had issued a report condemning "solitary confinement" in West German jails. Conservative West German politicians complain, on the contrary, that terrorists, including convicted murderers, are given privileges that are denied ordinary criminals.
Conditions vary in West Germany's different states. Debus was confined in Hamburg with ordinary criminals and could mix with them, but had no other terrorists in his prison. He could wear his own clothes, decorate his cell himself, possess his own radio and television, leave his open cell at will during the day to go to the courtyard and recreation rooms, and mingle with other prisoners. He could receive private visitors two times a month, for two hours each.