The legendary African-American comedian and longtime civil rights activist, Dick Gregory — now 80 years old — released the following statement on April 4, 2013, the 45th anniversary of the assassination of his friend, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
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.
Go to iacenter.org/LynneStewartPetition to demand her immediate release.