At this writing, many thousands have signed an online petition to the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons demanding a compassionate release for imprisoned people’s lawyer Lynne Stewart. Stewart was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2009 for allegedly aiding a terrorist—this “aid” consisting of releasing a public statement by her client!
Stewart, now 73, was battling breast cancer at the time of her imprisonment. Her sentencing prevented surgery that she already had scheduled. Her federal imprisonment in Texas delayed the needed surgery for 18 months and her cancer has now reached Stage Four.
The arrest, trial, and imprisonment of Lynne Stewart was, and is, an outrage. She has devoted her life to defending oppressed people, people who resisted injustice, and people whose criminal defense other lawyers wouldn’t touch. It is essentially because she refused to stop doing that, that she is in jail today.
The specific charges for which Lynne Stewart was convicted were essentially that she did her best to defend a controversial defendant—something any principled attorney should do for their client. In the 1990s, Lynne Stewart worked as a defense attorney for fundamentalist Islamic cleric Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted and sentenced to life in 1996 for seditious conspiracy related to alleged plots to attack New York landmarks, including the World Trade Center. The government’s allegation against Stewart is that she and two co-defendants, a translator and a paralegal, helped to communicate a message from Rahman to his organization in Egypt, by passing on a press release to a Reuters reporter indicating Rahman’s opposition to a ceasefire with the Egyptian regime. (This is the same Egyptian regime that the U.S. suddenly “discovered” to be an intolerable tyranny two years ago.)
The government claimed that this public communication violated the “Special Administrative Measures” (SAMs) that had been placed on Rahman. SAMs began during the Clinton era and permit the government to isolate and silence any prisoner considered a threat to the security of the empire. Stewart’s alleged offense occurred in 2000, yet the government did not take action against her until 2002, after the 9/11 attacks when prosecuting her suddenly became useful to publicizing “the war on terror.”
The government’s quest for revenge against Stewart knows no bounds. Stewart, who is hardly a flight risk, must wear 10 pounds of shackles on her wrists and ankles with connecting chains whenever she makes the trip to the prison physician. And in the prison hospital she is shackled wrist and ankle to the bed.
Responding to her many well-wishers, Stewart wrote on March 20: “The acknowledgement of the life-political, and solutions brought about by group unity and support, is important to all of us. Equally, so is the courage to sign on to a demand for a person whom the Government has branded with the “T” word—Terrorist. Understanding that the attack on me is a subterfuge for an attack on all lawyers who advocate without fear of Government displeasure, with intellectual honesty guided by their knowledge and their client’s desire for his or her case, I hope our effort can be a crack in the American bastion.”
Lynne Stewart must be freed, right now!
Sign the petition in support of a compassionate release at www.lynnestewart.org.
This article first appeared on Revolution.