UN experts slam ‘cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment’ of US prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal

A portrait of Mumia Abu-Jamal

On 20 April, a group of UN human rights experts spoke out about the treatment of US prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. This followed reports that authorities had shackled Abu-Jamal to a hospital bed as he awaited surgery; and that they had denied family and legal visitors access. The experts said:

This ongoing and continuing cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, including deliberate disregard of his dignity and inhumane conditions of confinement, is a clear violation of Mr. Abu-Jamal’s most fundamental rights

They added that:

The use of shackles during his hospital stays is deplorable, and causes Mr. Abu-Jamal additional and unnecessary suffering

And they stressed:

We are concerned that the medical condition of Mr. Abu-Jamal could be linked to years of medical neglect by the Department of Corrections of the state of Pennsylvania. … This situation may also be the result of racial discrimination against people of African descent by prison and state authorities.

Who is Mumia Abu-Jamal?

The Free Mumia website describes Abu-Jamal as an organiser and “an internationally celebrated black writer and radio journalist”. He is also a “former member of the Black Panther Party and supporter of Philadelphia’s radical MOVE organization”. According to NationofChange, his journalism has helped to “expose the horrors of the state’s, and the nation’s brutal prison system”.

The Campaign to Bring Mumia Home, meanwhile, calls Abu-Jamal a “revolutionary journalist”. It also insists that “he has maintained his innocence from the very beginning”.  And it highlights that people around the world consider him a political prisoner. This is “because of the political context of his arrest, sentencing and imprisonment”.

As Amnesty International wrote in 2000, authorities “sentenced [him] to death for the murder of a police officer in 1982 after a trial that failed to meet international standards”. The human rights group also released a “full analysis” of the context of his trial. This included a look at “the possible political influences that may have prevented him from receiving an impartial and fair hearing”.

“Seasoned crime reporter” J. Patrick O’Connor, meanwhile, wrote The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal in 2008. This book details “how the Philadelphia Police Department and District Attorney’s Office efficiently and methodically framed” Abu-Jamal. 

New evidence

History professor Johanna Fernandez is part of Abu-Jamal’s legal team. And following the discovery and release of new evidence in his case, she and other supporters are calling for a judicial review. WHYY (a public media outlet covering the Philadelphia region) paraphrases Fernandez as saying this evidence “shows prosecutor misconduct, race bias in jury selection, and suppression of exculpatory evidence”. She also stressed:

This case needs to be reviewed immediately, given the magnitude of the new evidence. In previous cases where this kind of evidence has emerged, the defendant has either been set free or has gotten an immediate new trial.

In this context, his supporters continue to speak out. Hundreds of protesters, for example, took to the streets of Philadelphia (and elsewhere) on Saturday 24 April, which was Abu-Jamal’s 67th birthday.

Main article image via Gary Stevens