Civil and Human Rights

International Struggle to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal: EU Asked to Address Political Prisoner’s Plight Hearing set for November 9 while supporters remain on world-wide alert

By Abayomi Azikiwe

On November 9, 2010 a critical hearing is scheduled in the nearly three decade-old case of journalist and activist Mumia Abu-Jamal, who still sits on death row in the state of Pennsylvania. Mumia was severely wounded and arrested on December 9, 1981 in Philadelphia and was later charged, tried and convicted of the murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner.

A grossly unjust prosecution was carried out against Mumia in 1982 and he was convicted of murder and given the death penalty. His case has been appealed over the years, where although the death sentence was overturned, repeated efforts by the prosecution have attempted to re-institute the penalty and carry out an execution.

Resulting from a January 19, 2010 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Third Circuit was ordered to reconsider the 2001 and 2008 decisions that rescinded the death penalty in Abu-Jamal’s case. There is an ongoing campaign by law-enforcement agencies across the country to pressure the court system into carrying out the execution of Mumia.

An international defense campaign for both the freedom of Abu-Jamal and for the elimination of the death penalty in the United States has grown since the early 1980s. The International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, MOVE and other organizations have been consistent over the years in not only saving the life of this award-winning writer and hero to millions around the globe, but in raising the profile of other political prisoners incarcerated in the U.S.

There were two death warrants signed against Mumia: one in 1995 and another in 1999. Both warrants were stayed by the courts after both national and international campaigns were waged to save the life of this former Black Panther Party leader and supporter of the MOVE organization.

During the struggle to stop the execution of Mumia in 1995 and 1999 people were mobilized in his defense from all over the U.S. and the world. A key element in building massive support for overturning the death sentence and demanding his release was the role played by activists, journalists, trade unionists, intellectuals and political officials in Western Europe, Africa, Japan and other parts of the globe.

Leading figures such as former South African President Nelson Mandela and his ruling African National Congress, along with former Archbishop Desmond Tutu, came out in support of Mumia and demanded that the scheduled execution be stopped. These developments took place in the immediate aftermath of the defeat of the racist apartheid systems in South Africa and Namibia in which people in the U.S. and all over the world had participated.

Mumia’s articles, interviews and books were published in numerous countries and served to win further support for his release as well as the abolition of the death penalty in the United States, which has for over a century been implemented in a racist and class-oriented manner. In specific reference to Mumia’s case, the fact that he had been a leading member of the Black Panther Party in Philadelphia was used in the penalty phase of his trial in order to place him on death row in Pennsylvania.

Mumia had also been a staunch critic of the police in Philadelphia where numerous complaints of brutality and misconduct were leveled over the years. On August 8, 1978, when the MOVE organization was attacked at their residence, he sought through his journalism to vindicate the nine members who had been arrested, charged and convicted in the murder of a police officer killed in the law-enforcement operation.

European Union Discusses Mumia’s Case

The death penalty in the United States has gained attention in recent weeks due to the execution of two mentally-disabled inmates, Teresa Lewis of Virginia and Holly Wood of Alabama. At present 35 states in the U.S. still have the death penalty, although four have not carried out any executions since 1976 when the practice was re-instituted after it was overturned in 1972.

In 2009 there was an increase in executions in the U.S. to 52 persons killed by the state through capital punishment. The Obama administration is not opposed to the death penalty and has not spoken out in regard to the most recent executions in Alabama and Virginia.

The European Union foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton was urged recently to raise the death penalty in the United States along with the current plight of Mumia Abu-Jamal. In a European Parliamentary debate on October 6, Danish MEP Soren Sondergaard stated that he “deplored” the execution of defenseless inmates including Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Sondergaard also noted, “The death penalty itself is a crime. But it is often more than that; waiting on death row in miserable conditions for years is torture. Capital punishment is also a form of terror, used to frighten people from resisting oppression and dictatorship.”

The European Parliament member went on to say that “African-American journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal—the voice of the voiceless—is a key symbol of struggle against the death penalty. For nearly 30 years he has sat on death row, convicted in a trial notable for its errors and racism.

“High representative Ashton should raise the case with U.S. authorities—in the fight against the death penalty there is no room for double standards. In the fight against the death penalty there applies only one standard: unconditional rejection.” (Article by Martin Banks, October 7)

In a resolution that had already passed on October 2, the European Parliament went on record opposing the executions of both Mumia Abu-Jamal and Troy Davis of Georgia. Davis’ case has also won international support. Nonetheless, Davis too remains on death row for a crime he did not commit.

German Left Party delegate Sabine Loesing, who was active in passing the October 2 resolution opposing the death penalty and specifically mentioning Mumia Abu-Jamal and Troy Davis, was pleased that the document was adopted with broad support. Losesing also said that she would make sure that adequate pressure be placed on the EU foreign affairs office of Catherine Ashton to raise this issue during meetings with the Obama administration.

Abayomi Azikiwe is Editor, Pan-African News Wire News Analysis

—The Pan-African Research and Documentation, October 13, 2010