For doing her job of representing her client, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, Lynne Stewart, the “people’s lawyer” and UNAC coordinating committee member was charged with violating a government-issued SAM (Special Administrative Measure when she released a media statement on Rachman’s behalf. Such «violations» are usually punished with a legal «slap on the wrist,» wherein the offending attorney is prohibited visiting rights for a period of time. Indeed, then Attorney General Janet Reno declined to bring any charges against Stewart. It was only two years later that Bush-appointed John Ashcroft decided to do so, charging her with conspiracy to aid and abet terrorism. Lynne initially was sentenced to 28 months in prison, but the government wanted to make an example of her to make sure that no other attorney dared to exercise due diligence in representing clients who had been falsely accused of engagement in so-called conspiracies. Therefore, government prosecutors appealed the initial sentence and demanded that, Lynne’s sentence be substantially increased. The compliant trial judge, John Koeltl, complied and sentenced her to 10 years.
In prison, Lynne Stewart’s breast cancer returned, and the wholly inadequate prison medical system was incapable of providing her with the necessary care. As the cancer metastasized to other parts of her body, her husband, Ralph Poynter, started an exemplary campaign to gain compassionate release for Lynne. UNAC and others joined in to help. Demonstrations and press conferences were held in New York, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Albany, NY and other places. Thousands sent letters, signed petitions and made calls demanding her release. On the last day of 2013, after a hard-fought campaign, the government finally relented, and Lynne was granted compassionate release.
During this time of precious few victories for our movement, this should be seen as one of the most inspiring. The campaign for Lynne’s release was non-sectarian. Everyone who wanted to support Lynne was welcome to do so. Rallies included speakers from every group that joined the effort. People were asked again and again to write, call, protest and spread the word about Lynne’s plight. Those who supported her made sure that if they were not going to let her out, the governemnt would pay a political price for their attack on Lynne and their violation of democratic rights. Despite setbacks, the campaign continued and succeeded in freeing Lynne, and, with the top-notch medical care afforded by the world-renown Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, perhaps extending her life for whatever additional time that science allows
At the same time, the Edward Snowden revelations about our government’s illegal spying were spreading throughout the world. The world watched Chelsey Manning get sentenced to 35 years for telling the truth. Perhaps to assuage its image on democratic rights as it seeks to «spread democracy» throughout the world, and in light of the mass campaign for Lynne’s compassionate release, the US government reneged. We brought Lynne home to her family, her community and to the movement for social change that she was prepared to give her life for.
Lynne’s victory is a victory for all of us.
For more information, please visit http://lynnestewart.org/.