Mumia Abu-Jamal, Cuban Five, Lynne Stewart: Political prisoners who will not be silenced

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Journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal is fighting for his life from death row. A U.S. appeal court has just quadrupled defense attorney Lynne Stewart’s sentence to 10 years. The Cuban Five endure their 12th year of confinement for trying to prevent terrorism against their country. Why does the U.S. government so desperately want them executed, silenced, isolated?

All these freedom fighters face life in prison for the crime of standing up to the empire. Their struggle against the repression of dissent, destruction of civil liberties and a corrupt so-called justice system is an inspiration to radicals everywhere. No wonder the government wants them silenced!

Live from death row. For 28 years Mumia Abu-Jamal has distinguished himself as a journalist and a revolutionary from his cell on death row. In December 1981, he was framed for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. The cops claimed that the gun used in the killing was a .38 registered to Abu-Jamal and that he had confessed to killing Faulkner. Actually the gun was a .44, a fact withheld from the jury. His supposed confession to the doctor while being treated for gunshot wounds from the same shooting incident never happened and wasn’t mentioned in the police report.

Abu-Jamal was set up because of who he was — a founding member of the Philadelphia Black Panther Party and an outspoken radio critic of the infamously corrupt and brutal Philly police department. He was granted a new trial on the death penalty sentence back in 2001. But the Supreme Court ordered that decision to be “reviewed” again. So Abu-Jamal is now fighting again to win a new trial on his death sentence. His case has drawn worldwide support as his revolutionary journalism and speeches re-enforce freedom movements around the globe.

Civil liberties bull’s-eye. Lynne Stewart, a New York lawyer with a long record of political activism, was targeted by the government because she did her job. Stewart was a court-appointed defense attorney in the case of 80-year-old Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, accused of conspiring to attack several New York landmarks during the early ’90s. In the wake of 9/11 nearly a decade later, the Bush White House charged Stewart with “giving material support to terrorists.” She was convicted in 2005 for conveying information from her jailed client to an Egyptian group that the U.S. defined as “terrorist.” Her initial sentence was 28 months. But after a review by an appellate court it increased to 10 years — essentially a death sentence for the 70-year-old activist who is battling breast cancer.

The case against Stewart was designed to intimidate other progressive attorneys, to frighten dissidents and to ease the way for continued Patriot Act witch-hunting. Stewart’s refusal to be silenced foiled the government’s plan. Her case has become a rallying point for radicals at home and abroad.

Sham war on terrorism. More than 3,400 Cuban citizens have been killed over the years by CIA-backed attacks led by anti-Castro exiles based in South Florida. The Cuban Five — Fernando González, Rene González, Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernández, and Ramón Labaniño — infiltrated rightwing Cuban American organizations in the late 1990s in order to stop these counterrevolutionary attacks.

The Five, two of them U.S. citizens, turned over information about violent plans to the FBI. It responded by arresting them! They were held in solitary confinement at separate and distant prisons, making an effective courtroom defense impossible. They endured a massive “show trial” in Miami and were convicted on charges of espionage and conspiracy. Their sentences ranged from 15 years to double life.

Outrageously, Hernández was actually charged with murder for warning Cuba of an imminent air attack, because when planes entered Cuban airspace, one of them was shot down and its pilot killed!

In 2005 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit overturned the espionage convictions. But the appellate court remanded the case back to the lower court for retrial.

The case of the Cuban Five exposes the government’s “War Against Terrorism” for what it is — an excuse to strangle political dissent at home and revolutionary movements abroad. The Cuban Five have now been imprisoned for nearly 12 years, and continue to lead an international campaign for justice in the USA.

Real war on dissent. Far from relieving unprecedented abuse of the United States justice system, recent moves by the Obama administration and federal courts have reinstated convictions that were overturned, drastically increased the length of sentences, and even ordered review of a new death penalty trial decision for Abu-Jamal.

Why all the harsh measures? Because the U.S. capitalist economy is facing a meltdown and rightwing forces are rallying to replace Tweedle Dee Democrats with Tweedle Dum Republicans. The White House is desperately manipulating the courts and cops, while accommodating the far right volleys in the press and electoral arena. Anything to discredit anti-capitalist, leftwing discussion and organizing!

Step up the fight. In these times, it’s more urgent than ever to free Stewart, Abu-Jamal and the Cuban Five. A few backed away last March at the Fourth World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Geneva, Switzerland. Leaders of some U.S. anti-death penalty groups secretly sent a letter that amounted to making a “deal with the devil.” They were trying to woo the Fraternal Order of Police to support some watered-down anti-death penalty legislation by sacrificing their support for Mumia. International and U.S. members roundly denounced this betrayal.

What’s necessary is a broadly democratic, militant and principled united front. Making deals with the cops is not likely to win anyone’s release.

These political prisoners, and many more, steadfastly agitate and organize from their “internal” exile, and ask that those on the other side of prison bars publicize their cases, and support them as integral to the fight for freedom by all social justice movements.

Abu-Jamal nailed it when he wrote of Stewart’s mean-spirited new jail sentence. “A 70-year-old grandmother, a lawyer, is sent to prison for ten years — for violating a prison rule that is an unconstitutional relic of the so-called war on terror. This is what an empire in decline looks like.”

To hasten that decline and help these freedom fighters, check out their websites:

Also see: Mumia’s greeting to the 2010 FSP convention

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