HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – A 48-year-old inmate on a yearlong hunger strike said Tuesday he has stopped taking any fluids, forcing a showdown with prison officials who have said they will force feed him.

“We currently have a court order allowing us to take appropriate steps to protect his life and that’s what we intend to do,” said Brian Garnett, spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Correction.

Bill Coleman, a British citizen, is serving an eight-year sentence for rape. He maintains the charges were made up, and began his hunger strike in September 2007, when he weighed over 250 pounds, to protest what he considers a corrupt judicial system.

He now weighs about 150 pounds.

Coleman had been drinking fluids, including a nutritional supplement until two weeks ago. He was taking milk and juice until Tuesday when he stopped accepting any fluids, said David McGuire, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties of Connecticut who represents Coleman and visited him Tuesday morning at Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers.

Coleman is not going to resume taking any fluids “any time soon,” McGuire said.

He said Coleman appeared mentally and physically exhausted.

“I know that he’s been frustrated with the Connecticut judicial system in general and he feels that nothing is happening,” said McGuire,

In a news release, Coleman’s family said he stopped taking fluids to mark the one-year anniversary of his hunger strike.

“This is a decision that has not been easy on his family and supporters have worked hard to prevent this from happening over the past four years. However, we were unable to convince him to stop,” according to the statement. “We urge everyone to help us before it is too late.”

Coleman wants a neutral investigation of the state’s judicial system. He believes that his conviction is a symptom of deeper institutional problems.

The DOC received a court order in January allowing it to force feed Coleman should it determine his health is in danger. Garnett said it will be up to the department’s medical staff to determine what needs to be done to protect Coleman’s life and when to act.

“He’s being very closely monitored by health (officials),” Garnett said.

McGuire said such a move would violate Coleman’s constitutional rights. He said Coleman’s hunger strike amounts to political speech and the Connecticut Constitution provides more protection for such symbolic speech than the U.S. Constitution.

“By not eating, he’s making a stand about what he believes is a corrupt and broken judicial system that merits First Amendment protection,” McGuire said.

The ACLU of Connecticut is challenging the court order that would allow a force feeding and is awaiting a trial.

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