From local police outfitted with military-grade equipment, to nonviolent protesters jailed on terrorism charges, the spectacle of state repression has become an increasingly visible part of the Black liberation struggle in U.S. cities. Police and prisons have long served as a conduit for stamping out Black-led protest movements, especially when those movements openly challenge capitalism and state power. Between the 1960s and 1980s, for example, local, state and federal law enforcement coordinated massive campaigns to dismantle radical groups like the Black Panthers, Republic of New Afrika and Black Liberation Army, using long prison sentences to take their members off the map.
On August 2, hundreds of social and human rights organizations around the world sent an open letter to US President Joe Biden, calling for the release of imprisoned Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab. The signatories include two Nobel Peace Prize winners, the Tunisian League for Human Rights and Alfonso Perez Esquivel, as a member of the Observatory of Human Rights of the Peoples. Other signatories include the National Lawyers Guild in the US, the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST) of Brazil, and Argentina’s Frente Patria Grande. The letter urges Biden to consider Saab’s health conditions, as he is “not receiving medical attention, despite being a cancer survivor and having reported several ailments, including vomiting blood.”
Greenville, SC - Atlanta's April 26th UN Delegation session, bearing the 2010 human rights campaign theme, “Putting COINTELPRO/Civil Rights Era Political Prisoners, Prisoners of War, and Exiles on the Global Agenda,” featured PP/POWs/Exiles in person, their relatives, and former co-defendants, has generated a buzz that will hopefully become a storm of sustained substantive activity for their release and relief. It seems to have had the humanizing effect our interned comrades, their relatives, and we longtime advocates could only conjure in our dreams. Since 2010, with the visionary support of the U.S. Human Rights Network's founding director, Ajamu Baraka and his successor, Kali Akuno, I've been boarding planes to Geneva, Switzerland, to talk to UN Human Rights Council members, Commission staffers, treaty body reviewer mechanism experts, and others.
This week, Clearing the FOG speaks with two advocates for the freedom of political prisoners Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier. Mumia Abu-Jamal is waiting to hear if Judge Lucretia Clemons will grant a new hearing on his case that includes new evidence of corruption in the legal process that led to his false conviction. On February 16, port workers will strike on the West Coast in support of an international day of action in for Mumia. Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio talks about his case and the carceral state. Leonard Peltier has now served almost 50 years in prison on a murder charge involving FBI agents. Coleen Rowley, a whistleblower formerly with the FBI, recently wrote to President Biden asking for clemency for Peltier. Rowley discusses the COINTEL Program, which is very much alive, and the culture inside the FBI. Both call on the public to take action to free Abu-Jamal and Peltier.
This is the hour to fight for Mumia’s freedom. On Thursday, Feb. 16th, longshore workers in ILWU Local 10 will shut down the Ports of Oakland and San Francisco to demand freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Mumia was framed for killing a police officer. With Tyree Nichols’ murder, we know who the real criminals are! Other actions are being organized for Feb. 16: Unions in South Africa will demonstrate in Pretoria at the U.S. Embassy, and in Durban at the U.S. Consulate. Railroad workers in Japan (in the Doro-Chiba union) will organize a demonstration for Mumia in front of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. Bay Area teachers will also teach on Mumia’s case on February 16th. We call on all Bay Area justice supporters to hold the date of Feb. 16 to join the ILWU action for Mumia ‘s freedom. More info will be sent out shortly. Why now? Judge Lucretia Clemons of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas has ordered the Philadelphia District Attorney to turn over its files up to 200 boxes to Mumia’s defense team.
A political prisoner is a person targeted or imprisoned because of their political actions, affiliations and/or beliefs. A political prisoner is also an individual, who while incarcerated, transforms themselves from a social prisoner by gaining clarity, embracing and maintaining political struggle. Thirty-seven-year-old Kevin “KJ” Johnson is scheduled to be executed by the State of Missouri on November 29th; most would not view him as a “political prisoner.” However, given the poverty, neglect, suffering and abuse that comes with being a captive in domestic colonies and urban enclaves within a capitalist and imperialist state, from the onset Kevin was undoubtedly a victim of US politics and policing. On July 5, 2005, 19-year-old Kevin “KJ” Johnson witnessed his 12- year-old brother, “Bam Bam” collapse while police conducted a search of their grandmother’s home.
After 36 years of incarceration, political prisoner Mutulu Shakur was granted parole after having been denied on nine occasions. Invariably media accounts mention that he is the step-father of the late rapper and actor Tupac Shakur while saying little about his own history. Any of the elder Shakur’s accomplishments are given short shrift in favor of an emphasis on pop culture celebrity. In 1986 Shakur was arrested for his role in the 1981 robbery of a Brink’s armored car which resulted in the deaths of three people. He managed to avoid capture for five years but was tried and in 1988 convicted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) statute and sentenced to 60 years in prison. Shakur is being released so that he can die outside of prison walls.
This excerpt from Cassandra’s forthcoming project, Climate Opium: How we are overdosing on false solutions to climate change, is dedicated to the 60,000 political prisoners in Egypt. “Unless all these prisoners are immediately freed, the United Nations must cancel the climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh planned for November 2022. Without freedom from dictatorships, colonialism and all injustices, there is no climate justice! NO greenwashing Sisi’s police state!” –Cassandra #FreeThemAll #FreeAlaa #nuclearcolonialism #NoREDD In the name of saving Nature and the climate, the scope of carbon colonialism i has become mind-bogglingly vast. Now, fortress conservation combined with carbon offsets is serving as an excuse to grab half the planet.
The United States constantly accuses its adversaries of holding political prisoners, while insisting it has none of its own. But for its entire history, the US government has used incarceration of its political opponents as a tool to crush dissent and advance the interests of economic elites. Well-known cases are those entrapped or framed in US national security state sting operations, or imprisoned with extreme sentences for a minor offense because of their political activism, such as Black revolutionary George Jackson. Each period of struggle by the working class and oppressed peoples against ruling-class control results in some activists locked up for their revolutionary work. “Political prisoner” has often meant those revolutionaries jailed for fighting their national oppression, as is the case with a great number of Black Panthers.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - On July 3 people in Philadelphia and dozens of other cities across the U.S. and around the globe marked the 40th anniversary of the unlawful and unjust imprisonment of Pennsylvania political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, including 29 years on death row. Now imprisoned for life in the general population, Abu-Jamal is still fighting for exoneration. In Philadelphia activists gathered at the Municipal Services Building across from City Hall. Until June 2020, a hated statue of racist former Philadelphia Mayor and police chief Frank Rizzo stood on the plaza.
Newly elected Chilean president Gabriel Boric’s victory speech was interrupted by a chant that went through the crowd: “We’re not all here.” This has become a slogan for many of the last vestiges of the 2019 Chilean uprising, a reference to the protesters who currently sit in cells, either awaiting trial or serving sentences for protesting the government. These political prisoners must be freed. What is left of the movement understands that, and they are demanding that Boric take action to free them — something he appears very hesitant to do.
Russell “Maroon” Shoatz has been granted compassionate release after 50 years in prison. The length of his sentence is outrageous but it is hardly unique. The United States not only has the dubious distinction of being the country with the largest population of incarcerated people, but it also has political prisoners held longer than anywhere else in the world. Shoatz is now 78-years old and suffering from cancer. To be blunt, he is being released so that he can die outside of prison walls. Of course there is deeply felt happiness that Shoatz will be freed for whatever time remains in his life, but no one should forget the tortures he suffered, including 22 years in solitary confinement. No one should forget the other prisoners such as Mumia Abu Jamal, Ruchell Magee, Sundiata Acoli, and Dr. Mutulu Shakur.
Large scale protests were held in the Papuan provinces of Indonesia at a time of heightened violence between government forces and pro-independence insurgents. On Friday, May 21, protests were held in different parts of West Papua, demanding release of political prisoners, and an end to months of violence. West Papuan cities like Manokwari, among others, witnessed hundreds participating in demonstrations. Along with protests in the Papuan provinces, Papuan communities in Java and other regions of Indonesia, also held protests condemning the violence. According to Veronica Koman, an Indonesian lawyer and human rights advocate currently in exile in Australia, a student-led protest in Semarang, Java, led to attacks from right-wing groups and over 46 Papuan and Indonesian students being detained by the police.
The Alliance for Global Justice (AFGJ) has released a comprehensive report detailing the various forms in which political repression of today’s anti-racist uprising in the U.S. has manifested itself. The report discusses findings in four key areas of investigation into deepened political repression of the uprising at the state and societal level: a surge in mass arrests and a significant rise in political imprisonments; an increase in arbitrary detentions and the militarization of streets; deaths caused by use of lethal force; and deaths caused by the ignition of racist violence and right-wing terrorism. Our findings and conclusions are summarized below.
Each August since 1979, the surviving sectors of the Black Liberation Movement, our supporters, and the new entrants into the ranks of resistors to the ongoing oppression against the African/Black masses and colonized peoples of this territory now called the United States and its settler state, have paid homage to our fallen freedom fighters and those incarcerated for decades in the cages of this country. The struggle for African/Black freedom in the United States began with the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to this territory in 1619. The tradition of resistance to the settler state is different from the tradition celebrated by the elites of this country in response to the death of U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). Our positionality, first as an enslaved people and after the formal period of slavery as a nationally oppressed people, had forged for us a different interpretation of U.S. history and our relationship to this state. For the Black Liberation Movement, reconciliation with the settler state toward a “more perfect union” was not only an impossibility because white-supremacist settler power has been crystallized into the state.