A new threat for Lynne Stewart

Alan Maass reports on new concerns for an imprisoned civil liberties champion.

Civil rights lawyer Lynne Stweart (Portland Indymedia)Civil rights lawyer Lynne Stweart (Portland Indymedia)

RADICAL LAWYER Lynne Stewart, who is incarcerated in federal prison on bogus charges of "supporting terrorism" while she served as an attorney to an imprisoned Muslim cleric, is facing a new threat to her health.

Stewart's supporters report that the breast cancer she was diagnosed with in the 2000s has returned and spread to her lungs and upper back.

According to Jeff Mackler of the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee, Stewart's husband Ralph Poynter says her condition is still treatable, especially if prison officials allowed her request to receive expert treatment at a New York City hospital, as she has before. But Stewart's request to be moved was denied, and she will therefore be treated at a facility attached to the prison where she is being held, in Texas.

Stewart has been a fearless lawyer for many decades, defending clients targeted by aggressive prosecutors, especially in the era of escalating state repression that preceded and followed the Bush administration's declaration of the "war on terror" in 2001.

In a clear attempt to exact revenge, the Bush administration targeted Stewart herself. She was accused helping a client, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, to communicate with an Islamic organization in Egypt at a time when he was barred from making contact. How did Stewart supposedly do this? By issuing a press release on behalf of Abdel-Rahmen.

Despite the flimsy evidence and obvious political motivations of the prosecution, Stewart was convicted in 2005. She was originally sentenced to 28 months in prison--already an outrageous term for a lawyer who did nothing more than communicate on behalf of her client. But federal prosecutors then demanded a still-longer sentence on the outrageous grounds that Steward was a danger to "national security."

What you can do

Find out more about the struggle at the Justice for Lynne Stewart website. Be ready to show your support when Stewart's appeal for a hearing is made to the U.S. Supreme Court.

You can write letters of solidarity and support to: Lynne Stewart #53504-054, Federal Medical Center, Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.

Stewart was ultimately given a 10-year sentence--a potentially life-threatening term given that she was battling breast cancer at the time. The sentence was upheld by an appeals court in June of last year. Stewart's team of lawyers is preparing an appeal asking the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out the sentence.

Stewart explained on Democracy Now! in 2009 that her case raises "important constitutional issues--the right to speak to your lawyer privately without the government listening in, the right to be safe from having a search conducted of your lawyer's office. All these things are now swept under the rug and available to the government."

Despite her health problems, Stewart has continued to help fellow prisoners with legal advice while behind bars. And her spirit remains strong. In a message to supporters for the New Year, she said:

I have a strong sense of never allowing any such problem deter me from someday getting released and walking out under my own power to rejoin our struggle...

We...face a formidable challenge in getting my case before the Supreme Court. Will they deign to hear us? Will we advance the sunlight or only increase the shadows on our constitutional rights?? We can only strive to present our issues in the best possible way and "fight like hell." There is no predicting results, but in prison, HOPE is the only currency.

Lynne Stewart deserves all the support we can give as she continues the struggle for her rights and ours.