- Created: Wednesday, 15 February 2017 14:47
- Written by Saoirse Nic an tSaoi
In a victory for campaigners in the US and worldwide, 539 prisoners were granted clemency by outgoing President Obama in January 2017, including notable political prisoners:
• Chelsea Manning, a US Army whistleblower. She was arrested in 2010 and convicted in 2013 for leaking classified documents to Wikileaks, exposing the brutality of the Iraq war, and sentenced to 35 years in military prison. Manning is a trans woman, and was denied the right to live as her gender or even grow her hair until 2015. In 2016, after undergoing a five-day hunger strike she was granted a request for genital reassignment surgery, considered life saving by many transgender people. She will be released in May.
• Oscar Lopez Rivera, a member of the Armed Forces for National Liberation, a communist organisation which fought for the independence of US colony Puerto Rico. He was captured by the FBI in 1981 and accused of ‘conspiracy’. He declared himself a prisoner of war, which would have prevented him from being prosecuted under the Geneva Convention. This was not recognised and he was sentenced to 55 years in prison, which was increased to 70 years after an attempted escape. Twelve of those years were spent in solitary confinement. He will be released in May.
• Ten prisoners have been released from the Guantanamo Bay detention centre on occupied Cuban soil and transferred to Oman.
However, many other prominent political prisoners remain in US prisons, including:
• Leonard Peltier, an activist in the American Indian Movement, was falsely convicted of the first degree murder of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975. He was given two life sentences, and has been denied release multiple times despite evidence existing of his innocence. He will not be eligible for parole until 2024.
• Mumia Abu-Jamal, a revolutionary black journalist and former member of the Black Panther Party, was framed for the 1981 shooting of a police officer. He was sentenced to death and remained on death row for 30 years. In 2011 his death sentence was commuted, but he is now serving a life sentence without possibility of parole. He and countless activists continue to fight for his freedom. Recently in 2015 he was denied Hepatitis C treatment but won a victory to get this after an international campaign.
• Mutulu Shakur, Black Liberation Army member and stepfather of Tupac Shakur, has been in prison since 1986 on charges of ‘conspiracy to aid bank expropriation’.
• Simon Trinidad, foreign minister of the Colombian guerrilla army FARC. He was arrested in Ecuador in 2004, deported to Colombia, then extradited to the US on false charges and sentenced to 60 years.
• 14 other Black Panther Party members remain in US prisons; all but two of them have been incarcerated since the 1970s.
Saoirse Nic an tSaoi
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 255 February/March 2017