Wales: From Prison, Activist Campaigns for Welsh Language Rights

Activist Jamie Bevan of Merthyr Tudful, Wales, is currently serving 35 days in prison after refusing to pay a fine for which the summons was issued in English only.

He is a member of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg [cy], the protest movement which this month marks its 50th anniversary of campaigning to secure Welsh language rights.

Defending Welsh language rights in court

Although Welsh had its official status secured in a Welsh Government Measure in 2011, Bevan's case has highlighted failings by the nation's courts, justice system and prison service in equality of provision for speakers of the language. (Bevan had received the fine, totalling GBP 1,141, for an earlier demonstration [cy] in March 2011 in which he and a fellow member of the movement occupied the Cardiff office of a UK Member of Parliament and painted a slogan on the wall to protest against government cuts in Welsh language public service broadcasting.)

Jamie Bevan outside the court in Merthyr Tudful (by Rhys Llwyd CC BY-SA)

Jamie Bevan outside the court in Merthyr Tudful. Photo by Rhys Llwyd CC BY-SA

A video uploaded to YouTube [cy] by user sianel62 on Monday, 13 August, 2012, the day of the hearing, shows a speech by Gareth Miles and then Jamie Bevan greeting supporters outside the court, translated as follows:

We are here today for one reason. To show that the Welsh language is not safe. And there is still a need for great work to defend it. How many of us can put our hands up and say that we can live our lives completely through Welsh in the modern Wales, without obstacles and without being discriminated against? I'm sure there are not many of you who can do that. From monolingual English summonses to being obliged to deal with court cases through the medium of a translator to Welsh language phone lines which don't exist and being ridiculed and threatened by police and security staff and courts staff – all for wanting to speak the native language of our nation. […]

Veteran Welsh language campaigners 

He also referenced the mother of direct action in Wales, Eileen Beasley, who died the previous day aged 91. Beasley and her family are remembered [cy] for their 1950s campaign of peaceful albeit costly civil disobedience to secure a council tax demand in Welsh, which provided a model for Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg:

[…] We pay tribute to Eileen Beasley and her family and promise to follow their highly commendable example as we work to secure fairness and justice to the Welsh language, for the generations which follow us.

Bevan was also joined on the steps of the court by veteran campaigner and writer Gareth Miles, a co-founder of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg. In 1962 Miles became the first member to be jailed for refusing to pay a fine in a protest calling for official status and recognition of the language. Miles gave a brief speech to supporters:

It is not a pleasure to be here but it is a privilege and an honour. It proves that Cymdeithas yr Iaith is still needed today, half a century since the beginning of the society. […] We often hear of the new democratic Wales – in too many ways it's too similar to the old Wales, subservient and colonised. […]

Bevan's court statement

Cameras were forbidden to be used inside the court. This rule was strictly enforced by G4S, the multinational company responsible for security, but the script of Bevan's speech to the magistrates has been released [cy]:

Dros y flwyddyn a hanner diwethaf rydw i wedi dilyn dulliau hollol gyfansoddiadol wrth wneud cwynion am y gwasanaeth Cymraeg pytiog a thameidiog sy'n dod o'r llysoedd a'r system gyfiawnder. Dwi wedi derbyn ymddiheuriad ar ôl ymddiheuriad gyda'r sicrhad bod gweithdrefnau yn cael eu rhoi mewn lle i wneud yn siwr nad yw'r camgymeriadau, fel y gelwir, yn digwydd eto. Ond parhau mae'r llythyron uniaith, y gwasanaeth ffon gydag opsiwn Cymraeg sydd yn arwain ‘nunlle, y wawdio a'r amharch gan staff y llysoedd, yr heddlu a'r staff diogelwch.

Over the past year and a half I have followed completely constitutional means in making complaints about the patchy and fragmented Welsh language service from the courts and justice system. I have received apology after apology with assurances that procedures are being put in place to make sure that the ‘mistakes’, as it were, do not happen again. But the monolingual [English language] letters continue, as does the phone service with a Welsh language option that leads nowhere and the ridicule and disrespect from staff of the courts, police and security.

Yn ôl eich cynllun iaith, does dim hawl i Gymro gael gwrandawiad o flaen Llys Cymraeg. Mae'n dweud y byddwch yn trio darparu llys Cymraeg ond os na allwch fe fydd cyfieithydd yn cael ei ddarparu. Mae siaradwyr Cymraeg dan anfantais enfawr wrth dderbyn gwrandawiad trwy gyfrwng cyfieithydd gan nad ydy cyfieithydd yn galluogi'r unigolyn i gyfathrebu yn uniongyrchol a'i farnwyr. Yn wir, mae llawer o gyfreithwyr yn cynghori eu cleientiaid i beidio â mynd am achos Cymraeg gan eu bod yn cydnabod yr anfantais yma. Sefyllfa hurt yn y Gymru fodern.

According to your language scheme, there is no right for the Welsh speaking person to have a hearing before a Welsh language court. It states that you will try to provide a Welsh language court but if unable to do so a translator will be provided. Welsh speakers are under a huge disadvantage when receiving a hearing through the medium of a translator owing to the fact that a translator does not enable the individual to communicate directly with the judges. Indeed, many lawyers advise their clients not to choose a Welsh language court case because they're aware of this disadvantage. A senseless situation in a modern Wales.

Mae eich cynlluniau iaith hefyd yn gosod mas strategaeth cyflogaeth yn seiliedig ar broffil iaith ardal. Hynny ydy, bydd cyflogi siaradwyr Cymraeg i alluogi llys i ddarparu gwasanaeth Cymraeg yn dibynnu ar y canran o siaradwyr lleol a mympwy rheolwr y llys. Sut allwch gyfiawnhau bod Cymro o Ferthyr yn derbyn gwasanaeth diffygiol tra bod rhywun arall mewn rhan arall o'r wlad yn derbyn gwasanaeth gwell. Mae gan Gymry ym mhob rhan o Gymru hawl moesol i ddefnyddio'r Gymraeg yn ei llawn ystyr.

Your language plans also set out an employment strategy based on the language profile of the area. That is, employing Welsh speakers to enable a court to provide a Welsh language service will depend on the percentage of local speakers and the whims of the court manager. How can you justify that a Welsh speaker from Merthyr receives a deficient service while someone else in another part of the country receives a better service? Welsh people in all parts of Wales have the moral right to use the Welsh language in the fullest sense.

Does dim bwriad gen i gydffurfio. Does dim bwriad gen i i dalu'r un ceiniog o'r dirwy serch y ffaith y gallaf wneud yn hawdd yn ariannol. Gwnewch fel y mynnwch gyda fi. Dwi'n derbyn yn llawen unrhyw ganlyniad.

I have no intention to comply. I have no intention to pay one penny of the fine despite the fact I could easily do so. Do what you will with me. I gladly accept any consequences.

Bevan in prison

During the first week of Bevan's term in Cardiff Prison he has complained [cy] of poor Welsh language provision, including the lack of forms in Welsh when applying for basic services such as the telephone, prison library and even personal food requirements.

In response the new Welsh Language Commissioner felt obliged to issue a public press release referring to his freedom to speak in Welsh during telephone calls, prompting concern from many in Wales. A second press release stressed recent efforts by the prison governor to remedy the situation for all prisoners.


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