activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Category: resistance from behind bars

european court condemns russia’s practice of putting defendants in metal cages in court

Today a European court condemned Russia’s practice of putting defendants in metal cages in court as “degrading treatment” and “an affront to human dignity.” The court ordered Russia to pay damages to the two plaintiffs in the case. According to an Associated Press article,

The European Court of Human Rights ordered Russia to pay 16,000 euros total to plaintiffs Alexander Svinarenko and Valentin Sladnyev. … The ruling could prompt others who have been held in Russian courtroom cages to file similar lawsuits. … Among other defendants who have been held in metal cages are Greenpeace activists, Bolshoi Ballet dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko and the members of punk group Pussy Riot.

After members of Pussy Riot were held in metal cages in court, two of them were transferred to penal colonies that did not differ significantly from the gulags of the Soviet Union. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova published an open letter describing how prisoners were routinely overworked and kept in inhumane conditions. Prison officials subsequently announced that they would increase prisoners’ wages and decrease working hours.

herman bell, member of the san francisco eight, denied parole for the sixth time

Former Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army member Herman Bell went before a New York parole board for the sixth time last week. After four decades behind bars, he was seeking an end to a sentence of 25 years to life. According to Sunday’s KQED article about Bell and Jalil Muntaqim (formerly Anthony Bottom),

Bell and Anthony Bottom were both convicted of murder in 1975 for shooting New York police Patrolmen Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini to death. In addition, Bell took a plea deal of manslaughter in 2009 for the 1971 killing of San Francisco police Sgt. John Young. … Bell and Bottom recently admitted to ambushing the New York patrolmen, Jones and Piagentini, as they responded to a fake 911 call.

Even though Bell has an exemplary record in prison, having earned a master’s degree and started a program to teach urban and rural communities to grow organic produce, the parole board denied his request again yesterday. At the behest of the police, the parole board is effectively turning Bell’s sentence into life without parole. This is contrary to the wishes of Jones’s son, Waverly Jones Jr., who wrote a letter to the parole board in 2009 saying that releasing Bell and Muntaqim would “bring some peace” to Jones’s family.

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.

lawsuit filed regarding media access to prisoners implicated in prison uprising

From April 11-22, 1993, one of the major prison uprisings in U.S. history occurred at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility outside Lucasville, Ohio. Nine prisoners and one correctional officer were killed. Five prisoners were sentenced to death, and numerous other prisoners received lengthy sentences.

For the following 20 years, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) has denied all media requests for face-to-face interviews with prisoners convicted of crimes allegedly committed during the 1993 uprising. Meanwhile, ODRC has frequently granted media requests for face-to-face interviews with other prisoners, including prisoners on death row. According to a lawsuit filed last week by five prisoners, four reporters, and one teacher,

Defendants have consistently denied media access to any and all prisoners convicted of crimes during the Lucasville uprising, no matter where such prisoners are confined or at what level of security, and regardless of the severity of the crimes for which they were convicted. … The reasons offered by Defendants for this discriminatory and inconsistent pattern of decision-making are not authorized by the Ohio Administrative Code and are based on the anticipated content of the interviews.

The complaint concludes that ODRC’s “total ban on media access to in-person interviews of prisoners implicated in the 1993 uprising is an unconstitutional policy and practice” designed to prevent public access to, and discussion regarding, the uprising.

civil disobedient begins hunger strike, as pelican bay hunger strike resumes tomorrow

Uriel Alberto was born in Oaxaca, Mexico in 1987 and came to the U.S. at age 7. Approximately one year ago, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rejected his request to stay in the U.S. following his February 2012 arrest for disrupting a meeting of the North Carolina House Select Committee on the State’s Role in Immigration Policy. After ICE ordered Alberto to present himself to immigration authorities by July 17 of this year, he began a hunger strike last week in front of the ICE office in Charlotte to protest his deportation.

Another hunger strike, in California, will restart tomorrow. Due to broken promises and cruel conditions, prisoners will resume a July 2011 hunger strike that started in Pelican Bay’s isolation unit and spread to prisons across the state. According to a San Francisco Bay Guardian article,

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) counted 6,000 prisoners throughout the state who refused food over several weeks in July 2011. During a follow-up strike that September, the number of prisoners missing meals swelled to 12,000, according to the federal receiver who was appointed by the courts to oversee reforms in the system. At least one inmate starved to death.

At Guantánamo Bay, where a group of detainees began a hunger strike in February and more than 100 detainees are refusing food, the U.S. government says it will continue to force-feed 45 of the hunger strikers during the holy month of Ramadan. Observant Muslims fast daily from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan, which begins tomorrow. The Obama administration allegedly does not force-feed observant Muslims between sunrise and sunset during Ramadan, but lawyers for the detainees have criticized the government for failing to guarantee that no such force-feeding will occur.

activist writes graphic novel regarding when and how to file prison grievances

Terri LeClercq and her 16-year-old daughter were arrested in 1998 during a protest against the School of the Americas. Some of the protesters with whom they were arrested were sentenced to six months in federal prison. Their subsequent letters to LeClercq described inmates who suffered serious human rights abuses, such as denial of access to basic medication.

LeClercq decided to write a graphic novel regarding when and how to file prison grievances. The Prison Litigation Reform Act, enacted in 1996, comprises a number of provisions of the U.S. Code that constrain and discourage litigation by prisoners. It requires that in order to be heard, each claim raised in a lawsuit by a prisoner must have been properly exhausted – that is, sufficiently recognizable in a timely grievance to give prison officials notice as to the incident or incidents to which the prisoner objected.

The practical result of the “proper exhaustion” requirement, combined with the very short deadlines of most prison grievance systems, is that many prisoners are unable to correct their administrative filings when they discover mistakes or develop a better understanding of how to articulate their claims. Alternatively, some prisoners write letters to prison superintendents or other highly placed officials instead of filing grievances; but this generally doesn’t meet the “proper exhaustion” requirement. Prisoners who get their problems solved informally, without needing to file grievances, also may have failed to properly exhaust their administrative remedies.

To help inmates file grievances that protect their rights to bring lawsuits, buy a copy of LeClercq’s $10 book and donate it to an inmate or a jail or prison library. (Before mailing a copy to a jail or prison library, however, people are encouraged to contact the jail or prison to determine whether the book will be accepted.)

pussy riot member announces hunger strike, as guantánamo hunger strike continues

After she wasn’t allowed to attend her parole hearing today, Maria Alyokhina of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot announced that she would begin a hunger strike. Alyokhina’s fellow band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova was denied parole last month. Alyokhina, Tolokonnikova, and a third band member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, were arrested in March 2012, charged with hooliganism, convicted, and sentenced to two years in prison; but Samutsevich’s sentence was later suspended.

A more desperate hunger strike, at Guantánamo Bay, reached its 100th day on Friday. Approximately 102 of the 166 inmates have joined the hunger strike. On April 26, the American Medical Association reaffirmed its long-standing opposition to force-feeding Guantánamo prisoners, but roughly 30 prisoners are apparently being force-fed regardless. According to Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, who has been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and 4 months but has never been charged with any crime, much less taken to trial,

I will not eat until they restore my dignity. … Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made. I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late.