Carole Seligman reports from the United States on a major miscarriage of justice.
Attorney Lynne Stewart’s conviction and incarceration represent a new level of assault on basic constitutional rights in the United States. Stewart, now 73, was convicted of aiding terrorism, because she made public a press release on behalf of her client, Sheik Omar Abdel Rachman, an Egyptian cleric framed and imprisoned in the US. The stated punishment for violations of these prison regulations is preventing future attorney visits to the imprisoned client. Lynne’s act was a violation of the Special Administrative Measures, instituted by the US government as part of its so-called War on Terror, not a crime.
Stewart was originally sentenced to a 28-month jail term — it would be over by now — but the government appealed for a longer sentence – ten years — and won. The judge claimed that Stewart did not display sufficient remorse for her actions on behalf of her client, based on comments she made on the steps of the courthouse after the original sentencing. He also cited a comment she made to TV/radio anchor Amy Goodman, of Democracy Now! When asked if she would “do it again,” she replied she hoped she would provide legal representation to unpopular clients like Omar Abdel Rachman and defend the Bill of Rights.
Stewart, described by imprisoned journalist, Mumia Abu- Jamal, as “a brilliant, gung-ho trial attorney” has “battled some of the biggest cases in New York history, beating quite a few – and beating the government as well” in federal cases. Like Abu-Jamal, and Bradley Manning, Stewart is an outspoken and active defender of human rights and opponent of the imperialist wars conducted by the US and its allies.
The case is an outrage to the legal right of those accused of crimes to be represented at trial by an attorney, a basic human right. This and the right of free speech, violated so egregiously by the judge in extending her original sentence, are at stake.
But the case is compounded in its outrageousness by Lynne Stewart’s age and health. Lynne was fighting breast cancer during the original trials and appeals. She was treated in New York where she had extensive family support. Now she is serving the prison term 2,000 miles away from her family and the medical facilities that treated her before and the cancer has returned in a more serious form — Stage 4 lung cancer. US prisons are notoriously inadequate providers of good health care.
Lynne Stewart has appealed her extended sentence to the US Supreme Court and is now awaiting a decision about whether they will hear her case. Meanwhile, a campaign for compassionate release has just been launched with a petition.
Join in the campaign to free Lynne Stewart and sign the petition: www.change.org/petitions/petition-to-freelynne-stewart-save-her-life-release-her-now-2 For more information: www.lynnestewart.org