Fasting for Lynne's freedom

Earlier this month, comedian and activist Dick Gregory announced that he would participate in a hunger strike until crusading civil liberties attorney Lynne Stewart wins her freedom.

Stewart has been imprisoned since 2009 on trumped-up charges of "supporting terrorism" after releasing a statement from her client, imprisoned cleric Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, to the media. Now facing a serious illness, Stewart's prison sentence threatens her life. This is a statement from the Justice for Lynne Stewart Campaign and Gregory, explaining the urgency of winning freedom for Lynne Stewart.

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

ON THE anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Dick Gregory issued a declaration that "I shall refuse all solid food until Lynne Stewart is freed and receives medical treatment in the care of her family and with physicians of her choice without which she will die."

The 73-year-old Stewart, a renowned criminal defense attorney, is suffering from Stage Four cancer. Gregory, known for his social activism as much as his for comedic wit and political commentary, has taken this step to reinforce the worldwide petition in support of Stewart's application for compassionate release. Over 6,000 people, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Pete Seeger, have signed to date with the numbers growing by the minute.

As a criminal defense lawyer for over 30 years, Lynne Stewart defended the poor, the disadvantaged and those targeted by the police and the state. Such has been her reputation that judges assigned her routinely to act for defendants whom no attorney was willing to represent. One of these was the blind Egyptian cleric Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, who Stewart represented with co-counsels former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and Abdeen Jabara.

In 2002, Lynne Stewart was targeted by then-President George W. Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft for providing a vigorous defense of her client. She was charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist activity after she exercised both her and her client¹s first amendment rights by presenting a press release to a Reuters journalist.

In 2006, while the Department of Justice demanded a 30-year sentence, Judge John Koetl, handed down a 28-month sentence noting, "By providing a criminal defense to the poor, the disadvantaged and unpopular over three decades, it is no exaggeration to say that Ms. Stewart performed a public service not only to her clients but to the nation."

What you can do

Sign a petition to demand the compassionate release of Lynne Stewart.

Find out more about the struggle at the Justice for Lynne Stewart website. 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.

That sentence, however, was not to stand. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals withdrew Lynne Stewart's bail--even though her case was still before the courts--and remanded the case back to Judge Koetl with the demand that he revisit his sentence and issue a severely enhanced one. On July 15, 2010, Judge Koeltl increased Stewart's sentence from 28 months to 10 years imprisonment. This has become a virtual death sentence for Lynne Stewart.

Below is Dick Gregory's statement as he began his hunger strike.

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Declaration by Dick Gregory, April 4, 2013

I HEREBY declare on this day commemorating the life and sacrifice of my friend and brother in struggle, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that in the spirit of his moral legacy, I demand the immediate release from prison of the legendary lawyer Lynne Stewart, who devoted her entire professional life to the poor, the oppressed and those targeted by the police and a vindictive State.

I further declare that from this day forth, I shall refuse all solid food until Lynne Stewart is freed and receives medical treatment in the care of her family and with physicians of her choice without which she will die.

There is no time to lose as cancer, which had been in remission, has metastasized since her imprisonment. It has spread to her lymph nodes, her shoulder and appears in her bones and in her lungs.

A criminal defense attorney in New York for over 30 years, Lynne Stewart's unwavering dedication as a selfless advocate was acknowledged by the community as well as judges, prosecutors and the entire legal profession. Such has been her reputation as a fearless lawyer, ready to challenge those in power, that judges assigned her routinely to act for defendants whom no attorney was willing to represent.

In 2002, Lynne Stewart was targeted by then-President George Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft for providing a vigorous defense of her client, the blind Egyptian cleric Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman. She was charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist activity after she exercised both her and her client's First Amendment rights by presenting a press release to a Reuters journalist. She did nothing more than other attorneys, such as her co-counsel former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, have done on behalf of their clients.

The reason for the prosecution and persecution of Lynne Stewart is evident to us all. It was designed to intimidate the entire legal community so that few would dare to defend political clients whom the state demonizes and none would provide a vigorous defense. It also was designed to narrow the meaning of our cherished First Amendment right to free speech, which the people of this country struggled to have added to the Constitution as the Bill of Rights.

The prosecution and imprisonment of Lynne Stewart is an ominous threat to the freedom, rights and dignity of each and every American. It is the agenda of a police state.

I ask you to join with me to demand freedom for Lynne Stewart. An international campaign has been launched with a petition that supports her application for compassionate release. Under the 1984 Sentencing Act, the Bureau of Prisons can file a motion with the Court to reduce sentences "for extraordinary and compelling reasons." Life-threatening illness is foremost among these and Lynne Stewart meets every rational and humane criterion for compassionate release.

Join with me, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Pete Seeger and 6,000 other people of conscience throughout the world who have signed this petition to compel the Warden of the Federal Medical Center, Carswell and the Director of the Bureau of Prisons to act.

Act now. There is no time to lose.