The struggle to free human rights champion Lynne Stewart has become extremely urgent, as the 73-year-old attorney has been diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer.
Stewart is in the fourth year of a 10-year sentence for issuing a press release on behalf of convicted former client, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman. She was successfully treated for breast cancer before her imprisonment. The disease had been in remission for five years. However, the cancer has returned and has spread to her lungs and upper back.
“The sentence of 10 years has become what amounts to a death sentence,” explained Dr. Zenobia Brown, the daughter of Stewart and her spouse, Ralph Poynter, during a Jan. 24 interview on WBAI’s program, “Where We Live.”
Brown and Poynter, who were interviewed together, announced that they are setting up an online petition to demand compassionate release for Stewart. It will be available at lynnestewart.org.
Known as “the people’s attorney,” Stewart was convicted on a fabricated charge of aiding terrorism based on a press release she issued for Rahman in 2000. She was initially sentenced to 28 months, but the government appealed and said the sentence was too light. Judge John Koeltl resentenced her to 10 years in July 2010.
Rahman, a blind cleric, was convicted in 1995 on trumped-up seditious conspiracy charges connected with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. He was represented by Stewart, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and Abdeen Jabara.
The re-emergence of Stewart’s cancer was first detected in a PET scan. Brown noted that it took two months from the time of the scan until Stewart was able to see a doctor. Stewart’s hands and feet are shackled every time she goes to the hospital. While there she is cruelly shackled to a bedpost by her ankle and wrist.
Poynter noted that Stewart has been fighting on behalf of other prisoners and doing legal work for them. She is using her own battle for compassionate release to draw attention to other prisoners who are also seeking it, and to show how unjust the system is in routinely denying it.
Under the 1984 Sentencing Act, courts can reduce sentences for “extraordinary and compelling” reasons such as terminal illness. The Bureau of Prisons must first file a motion with the court for consideration of such action. The BOP rarely does so.
Human Rights Watch and Families Against Mandatory Minimums issued a report on Nov. 30 saying that since 1992, the annual average number of prisoners who received compassionate releases has been less than two dozen, out of a federal prison population of more than 218,000.
“She is getting discouraged because there are no ears [to hear] that struggle,” Brown said. “This will bring light” to the fight.
Stewart appealed her 10-year sentence to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which had ordered her resentencing. The court affirmed the sentence in June. Her sentencing shows what the repressive state apparatus can do to those who fight for the most oppressed.
Stewart’s lawyers will file a petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court which is due on Feb. 21. Poynter and Brown called for attorneys to file amicus briefs on her behalf. “We need the movement to get her out of prison,” stressed Brown.
Support Stewart by signing the online petition and writing to Lynne Stewart – 53504 -054, Federal Medical Center, Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.