activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Category: activists released from custody

year-end wrap-up: updates on 2013 posts

Natan Blanc: After petitions and demonstrations, Natan Blanc was released in June, after spending six months in jail for refusing to be inducted into the Israel Defense Forces.

Food Not Bombs: Although state health officials in New Mexico threatened in June to seek a court order to stop Food Not Bombs from serving free meals without a permit, Keith McHenry reports that “the state never returned and the meals continue without incident.”

Uriel Alberto: After beginning a hunger strike in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Charlotte on July 4, to protest his deportation, Uriel Alberto was approved within two weeks for a one-year stay of removal.

California Prisoner Hunger Strike: Following legislators’ announcement that they would hold joint public hearings on the conditions in California prisons that led to another prisoner hunger strike in July, hunger strikers suspended the strike in September, 60 days after it began.

Washington Ballot Initiative: The GE labeling initiative in Washington, which would have required retail food products and seed stocks that had been genetically engineered to be labeled, was defeated by a small margin in November. Corporations spent $22 million, more than in any prior campaign in the state’s history, to defeat the initiative. Monsanto was the largest single contributor. According to a Grist blog post by Nathanael Johnson, the money made a difference, just like it did in a similar attempt to pass a labeling bill in California last year:

In each case the labeling bills started out with big leads. In each case those leads shrank as the food industry and agribusiness paid for massive amounts of advertising. The moral of the story seems to be that money really can change the outcome of elections.

Tyler Lang and Kevin Olliff: On November 6, Tyler Lang and Kevin Olliff had their second pretrial conference. Lang accepted a plea deal and was released. Olliff attempted to accept a plea deal, but the judge rejected it; so he remains in Woodford County Jail. He was in court again today in front of a different judge.

Jeremy Hammond: On November 15, anarchist hacker Jeremy Hammond was sentenced to 10 years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. In response to the sentence, WikiLeaks released all of the remaining Stratfor files.

Reverend Billy and Nehemiah Luckett: At a court hearing on December 9, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office reduced the charges against Reverend Billy and Nehemiah Luckett, dropping the more serious charges and reducing the remaining offenses to misdemeanor criminal trespass, disorderly conduct, and unlawful assembly.

Kimberly Rivera: On December 12, Iraq war resister Kimberly Rivera was released early for good behavior and performing extra work. She had been scheduled for release in early January 2014.

Jerry Koch: On December 20, attorneys for Jerry Koch filed a motion asking U.S. District Judge John Keenan to release the 24-year-old philosophy student, because Koch has shown he has no intention of cooperating with the grand jury to which he’s been subpoenaed.

Pussy Riot: On December 23, the two women from Pussy Riot nearing the end of their two-year prison terms were released under a new amnesty law. The law was also expected to bring about the release of many people arrested after an anti-government demonstration in May, and close the cases of the 28 Greenpeace activists and 2 journalists arrested in the Arctic Sea in September while occupying an oil rig to call attention to the threat of oil drilling and climate change. According to a December 19 New York Times editorial,

In pardoning these prisoners, Mr. Putin gave no indication that they may have been wrongfully tried and imprisoned, nor that more people will not be treated similarly in the future.

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cambodian land rights activist yorm bopha to be released on bail

Yorm Bopha will be released on bail sometime today. The Cambodian Supreme Court ordered that Bopha’s case be further investigated and re-tried. Apparently the Court of Appeals failed to address some of the evidence presented.

Bopha said the Supreme Court should have simply dropped the charges against her. Incarcerated since September 4, 2012, she was convicted on December 27 of assault, a trumped-up charge, and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. In June, the Court of Appeals upheld her conviction but reduced her sentence to two years.

Human Rights Watch has said the charges against Bopha were an attempt to retaliate against her for her activism. According to today’s TIME article,

Land grab grievances came to a head in 2012, when fierce protests were sparked in the Boeung Kak area of the capital, Phnom Penh, and thirteen women were convicted for occupying land illegally. In the aftermath, Bopha became the most vocal activist fighting for the women’s release, for which she received numerous threats and was frequently harassed.

As Slavoj Žižek has written, we should “keep in view the dark underside of global capitalism that is fomenting revolts.”

assata shakur day: thirty-four years since the black liberation army broke her out of prison

Assata Shakur joined the Black Panther Party (BPP) as a college student. Like many East Coast members of the BPP, she later went underground to build the Black Liberation Army (BLA). According to Shakur’s autobiography,

It was clear that the Black Liberation Army was not a centralized, organized group with a common leadership and chain of command. … Many members of the various groups had been forced into hiding as a result of the extreme police repression that took place during the late sixties and early seventies. Some had serious cases, some had minor ones, and others, like me, were just wanted for “questioning.”

On May 2, 1973, state troopers stopped Shakur, Zayd Shakur, and Sundiata Acoli on the New Jersey Turnpike, claiming their white Pontiac had a defective tail light. A shootout erupted, leaving Zayd Shakur and state trooper Werner Foerster dead. State trooper James Harper sustained a minor injury, Acoli escaped but was captured a day or so later, and Assata Shakur was critically wounded and arrested at the scene.

Several charges brought against Shakur while she was in hiding (e.g., bank robbery) were dismissed, resulted in acquittals, or were dropped for lack of evidence. As to the May 1973 shootout, the absence of gun residue on Shakur’s fingers meant she had not shot a weapon. Yet in 1977 she was convicted on flimsy evidence of four charges related to that incident: being an accomplice to Foerster’s murder, assaulting Harper with the intent to kill, possessing weapons, and attempting to kill Harper.

Shakur was sentenced to life plus 33 years. On November 2, 1979, a BLA unit broke Shakur out of prison without firing any shots or hurting anyone. She surfaced in 1984 in Cuba, where she was granted asylum.

This past May, Shakur was added to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List. She is the first woman and the second U.S. citizen to appear on the list. In response to Shakur being labeled a terrorist, the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, Project SALAM, and the Jericho Movement declared today to be “Assata Shakur Day.”

mexican president to pardon political prisoner alberto patishtán gómez

On June 12, 2000, eight police officers and their driver were ambushed in Simojovel, Chiapas. Seven of the officers were killed, and the officer and driver who survived were seriously wounded. The state government prosecutor quickly developed a hypothesis that the killers could have been Zapatistas.

Despite overwhelming evidence that basic education teacher Alberto Patishtán Gómez was not involved, the Army and federal police detained him. Patishtán had called for the removal of his community’s mayor one month before the mayor implicated him in the ambush. Without access to an adequate defense, Patishtán was found guilty by a court in Chiapas in March 2002 and received the maximum sentence of sixty years in prison. According to an April 12 article by Jessica Davies,

It is this remarkable man’s profound concern for the denial of basic rights to [poor indigenous] prisoners that has led him to becoming an organizer for justice and human rights and for better conditions and treatment within the prisons, inspiring the organization of groups of prisoners who participate in prayers and fasts, implement semi-permanent sit-ins, hold large annual events for their anniversaries and write powerful letters, all of this as adherents to the Zapatistas’ Sixth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle. Alberto has organized, acted as spokesperson for, and participated in several hunger strikes, leading to the release of hundreds of indigenous prisoners.

On Tuesday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said Patishtán will be the first person he pardons after a change in Mexico’s penal code takes effect today. The change will allow the president to pardon prisoners “when there are consistent indications of grave human rights violations” against them. Patishtán is currently being held at the National Institute of Neurology, where he was transferred from prison to undergo treatment for a brain tumor.

immigrant activist who infiltrated detention center to be released

Approximately two weeks ago, Claudia Muñoz infiltrated the Calhoun County Jail, a detention facility in Michigan. Muñoz, who entered the U.S. at age 16, is an undocumented National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA) organizer. She intentionally had herself detained to expose abuses and identify people who should be released according to President Obama’s immigration policies. In her words:

I used to be afraid … but I’m not anymore. I know there’s going to be people on the outside who have my back, and who have done this before, and they have given me the power as a community to be unafraid. And I will go in there and I will find every single person that’s in my situation that’s not supposed to be there in the first place.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said late yesterday that Muñoz would be released, like Viridiana Martinez and other NIYA organizers who infiltrated the Broward Transitional Center in Florida last year. Muñoz already proved, however, that the Michigan ICE office is ignoring federal directives. For example, they’ve failed to release other detainees with low-priority cases.

tibetan activist and former monk released after seventeen years in prison

The Chinese government, which has jailed hundreds of Tibetans for political crimes, recently released Jigme Gyatso. Gyatso was said to be frail due to years of torture and poor medical care. According to Wednesday’s New York Times article,

A former monk, Jigme Gyatso was first given a 15-year sentence for “leading a counterrevolutionary organization” after he and a group of friends secretly advocated Tibetan independence. The crimes he was accused of by a Chinese court in 1996 included distributing pro-independence leaflets and hanging a banned Tibetan flag at the Ganden monastery near Lhasa, capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

The authorities increased Gyatso’s sentence by three years after he joined other inmates in shouting the Dalai Lama’s name while a delegation from the European Union toured the prison in 2004. Prison guards retaliated against the inmates by beating Gyatso and killing nine others. Gyatso’s sentence was later reduced by one year, characterized by the New York Times as “a gesture of leniency often granted to inmates in failing health.”

year-end wrap-up: updates on 2012 posts

NDAA: On January 13, a group of journalists and activists sued President Obama regarding the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, which Obama signed on December 31, 2011. Four months later, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest granted a preliminarily injunction barring enforcement of the NDAA section that allows indefinite detention of anyone who has “substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” Another four months passed before Judge Forrest granted a permanent injunction barring enforcement of that section; but the U.S. government appealed, and in October the Second Circuit Court of Appeals granted the government’s motion for a stay of Forrest’s injunction pending a decision on the government’s appeal. Meanwhile, the NDAA of 2013 could further expand the government’s power to hold people in military detention indefinitely.

RNC: The 2012 Republican National Convention protests were surprisingly calm. According to an August 31 New York Times article, no one broke windows, no tear gas filled the air, and only two people were arrested:

The lack of disturbances stood in stark contrast to the last three Republican conventions, when street battles between the police and protesters resulted in numerous arrests and prompted a flurry of court fights about police actions.

The number of protesters at this year’s RNC was smaller than expected due in part to Hurricane Isaac, the storm that caused Republican officials to cancel most proceedings scheduled for the first day of the convention.

Domestic Workers Bill of Rights: California Governor Jerry Brown displayed a lack of empathy predictable only among politicians by vetoing a bill of rights for domestic workers on September 30. Michelle Chen, a contributing editor at In These Times, describes what exactly Brown axed:

The highly anticipated Domestic Workers Bill of Rights would have enacted major protections for tens of thousands of housekeepers, nannies and other caregivers and closed loopholes ignored by federal labor law. It would have extended California’s policies for overtime pay and workers’ compensation, and helped ease in-house workers’ arduous, sometimes-abusive work routines by providing for a set amount of sleep and the ability to cook one’s own food.

Tim DeChristopher: After serving 15 months in prison, Utah climate activist Tim DeChristopher was admitted to a halfway house in Salt Lake City at the end of October. The local First Unitarian Church offered him a job with its social justice ministry. Yet a Bureau of Prisons official said he couldn’t work at the church because the job involved social justice, which was related to DeChristopher’s crime; so he accepted a job at a bookstore instead.

Pussy Riot: Two of the three infamous members of the punk collective Pussy Riot are now serving the rest of their two-year sentences at some of the harshest women’s penal colonies in Russia. (An appeals court released the third woman on bail in October.) They were transported there around October 23. According to an October 29 New York Times post by Masha Gessen, discussing several recent incidents of political repression in Russia,

Anyone can be arrested for legal, peaceful protest — and any one of those arrested can be chosen, at random, to spend days, months or years in prison.

One month later, on November 29, a Moscow court ruled that videos of Pussy Riot performances fell under a law meant to control hate speech. The New York Times reported the following:

The court called for limiting public access to Web sites and blogs displaying the videos. But the ruling is unlikely to cut off access to them, since it applies only to servers in Russia. … Thursday’s ruling cited “psycho-linguistic research” proving that the videos “humiliate various social groups based on their religious beliefs” and contain “hidden calls to rebellion and nonsubmission to authority.”

Jeremy Hammond: After anarchist hacker Jeremy Hammond was put in solitary confinement for five days around the time Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska denied him bail. He has been incarcerated for more than nine months. A release from Anonymous subsequently reported that Judge Preska is married to a client of Stratfor, the very intelligence contractor whose servers Hammond allegedly gained access to, costing the company millions and focusing “worldwide attention on the murky world of private intelligence,” according to a November 2012 Rolling Stone article. Hammond’s attorneys are trying to get Preska removed as the judge in his case, because of her apparent bias.

immigrant activist who infiltrated detention center is released after identifying people who should be free

On July 20, Viridiana Martinez successfully infiltrated Broward Transitional Center, a detention facility in Florida, to identify people who should be released according to President Obama’s immigration policies. Martinez, who entered the U.S. at age 15, is among 7 undocumented National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA) organizers who intentionally put themselves in deportation proceedings to infiltrate the Broward facility. Despite their wish to remain in custody until all low-priority detainees are freed, Martinez was apparently released on Friday.

NIYA found that undocumented youth who come into contact with the legal system are no safer now than they were before Obama’s new policy, though that policy did not require full implementation until August 15. NIYA also identified more than 100 people who should be released for a variety of reasons. Although Martinez was recently expelled, NIYA renewed its challenge to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and GEO Group, Inc., which owns the facility:

NIYA will no longer allow GEO Group or other private prison corporations to profit off of shattered families and broken lives. We will continue to organize inside their jails until the president lives up to his promises.