Lynne Stewart reflects on a year free from prison

Lynne Stewart

Lynne Stewart

New Year’s Eve marked the one-year anniversary of the release from prison of people’s lawyer Lynne Stewart, who was imprisoned for “aiding and abetting a terrorist organization.” Her client in the case was Egyptian Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, whom the U.S. government labeled a terrorist and convicted. On Dec. 31, 2013, Stewart was granted a compassionate medical release due to her metastatic cancer.

On Dec. 31, 2014, Lynne Stewart commemorated her year-long freedom by returning to New York City’s Manhattan Correctional Center, where she had been jailed prior to being transferred to Federal Medical Center, Carswell, a maximum security federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas. Under the windows of the Correctional Center on a frigid night, Stewart and others gathered with noisemakers to let the women still locked down know they are not being forgotten, just as her supporters did for her when she was jailed there.

Afterwards, she attended the annual New Year’s Eve party thrown by the International Action Center, a grassroots social justice activist organization which has long championed the cause of political prisoners and all oppressed victims of U.S. capitalism and imperialism.

Since being home in New York, Stewart has not wavered from speaking truth to power against all forms of injustice nationally and internationally. She’s passionate about fighting for criminal justice reform and views the U.S. prison-industrial complex as senseless and embarrassing.

Stewart’s fighting spirit has helped her endure day-to-day trials and tribulations. The first six months following her release were fraught with serious health challenges. Upon improving, she has attended and spoken at local events, and even traveled out of state with permission from her probation officer. On one such trip, while at the airport, she discovered that she is now on the U.S. government’s “terrorist watch list.”

Most recently, Stewart participated in a “Black Lives Matter” protest in New York City’s Grand Central Station, speaking and joining in chants and song.

Reflecting on President Barack Obama’s recent announcement regarding normalizing relations with Cuba, Stewart states that she sees this as a new initiative to possibly bring Cuba down, and that the flow of U.S. dollars there may be a negative force, an attempt to corrupt Cuba. However, unlike the U.S., she says, Cuba is principled, and knows the U.S. well.

Regarding Assata Shakur, the U.S. political prisoner exiled in Cuba, Stewart believes that Cuba will continue to protect her from bounty hunters and has no intention of extraditing her to the U.S. She does not think the New Jersey State Police will make an attempt on Shakur’s life, though they are “mad dogs.”

Stewart adds that she is delighted that the last of the Cuban 5 are free. She deplores the fact that her special friend, Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera, has been imprisoned for 33 years.

Regarding the Rev. Edward Pinkney’s unlawful conviction and imprisonment in Jackson, Mich. — in a small prison with the only phone being outdoors — Stewart comments that it was Pinkney against corporate power, and that only the people can protect him. She maintains that it was the power of the people that protected her and achieved her freedom.

Stewart states that the number of political prisoners released this year gives her hope that the opposition may not be as formidable as before. She sees a change in attitude toward political prisoners and says we must continue the fight to bring them all home, including Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. Pakistani political prisoner Aafia Siddiqui is also in Carswell federal prison, states Stewart, but her state of mind is such that she is now refusing visits. Her government is willing to take her back.

Regarding grand jury functioning and decisions pertaining to police killings of unarmed Black boys and men, Stewart says “the law” is what “they” want it to be at any given time. She cites legal lynching cases ongoing since 1619. The grand jury is an ancient legal institution, notes Stewart, who served for 30 years as a practicing defense lawyer. The solution, she says, is abolition of the grand jury in favor of a jury trial. She states that the cops and prosecutors are a single entity with an agenda.

Stewart says she is looking forward to a new year of new victories, believing in the power of the people to achieve future gains. “We have our work cut out for us,” she says. Her message to the movement remains the same: “Have courage, fight back, continue to struggle and keep the love flowing. Resistance is justified!”

Stewart and her family are planning an anniversary celebration of her freedom in mid-February, her health condition permitting.