On International Human Rights Day, Activists Call for Freeing ‘Political Prisoners’

Activists hold up a banner for a campaign to free Oscar Lopez Rivera and Ana Belen Montes (The Ink/ Sana Ali)
Activists hold up a banner for a campaign to ‘Free Oscar Lopez Rivera and Ana Belen Montes’ (The Ink/ Sana Ali)

About a dozen activists protested in Harlem Saturday to call attention to International Human Rights Day and to raise awareness about so-called political prisoners in this country.

“What’s the call? Free them all!” they chanted.

“Some of the worst victims of international human rights violations are the brothers and sisters that we call political prisoners in the United States,” said Benjamin Ramos Rosado, 39, coordinator for ProLibertad, the group that organized the event outside the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building on West 125th Street. “In the past two years we’ve really let the holiday go by, so we decided to reclaim the holiday by doing you know, a small little action.” he said.

One subject of the protest was Mumia Abu Jamal, 62, a founding member of the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party, who is serving a life sentence after being convicted of the 1982 murder of a Philadelphia police officer. “Brick by brick, wall by wall, we’re going to free Mumia Abu Jamal,” chanted the activists.

“Mumia was framed for a murder he did not commit by racist police in Philadelphia,” said Rosado.

Orie Lumumba, who said he represented MOVE, a Philadelphia black liberation group, made the case that Mumia was a political prisoner. “Mumia was a journalist in Philadelphia who gained a reputation as the voice of the voiceless,” he said. “He spoke out against police brutality, against unemployment, against racism. As a journalist he was doing the job that journalist were supposed to do.”

In 1978, Mumia covered what Lumumba described as the “siege, kidnapping and framing of the MOVE organization,” adding that Mumia did not take sides in his coverage of the event but was made a target.

Many human rights advocacy groups have taken up Mumia’s case but he remains in prison. “We got to step it up and do our work out here,” Lumumba said. “We’re going to keep coming out here to bring our freedom fighters home. We keep educating the community, advocating, doing what we can and stuff.”

Rosado also talked about other inmates that he considers political prisoners, including Leonard Peltier, a native American activist who was convicted of killing two FBI agents; Oscar Lopez-Rivera, a Puerto Rican nationalist who is serving a 70-year federal prison term for a range of convictions, and Ana Belen Montes, a former U.S. government intelligence analyst who has pleaded guilty to spying for Cuba and is serving a 25-year prison term.

The speakers also said they wanted to call attention to health care in prison.

“Some prisoners are getting older a lot of them are very sick,” said Anne Lamb,61, co-chair of the New York City chapter of the Jericho Movement, an advocacy group focusing on inmates that they consider to be political prisoners. “This is really a matter of life and death.”

As an example, Lamb cited the case of Robert Seth Hayes, a black nationalist who was convicted of murdering a New York city police officer. She said Hayes has diabetes.

As the event wrapped up, Rosado joked about the cold weather.  “We can’t free them all, if we’re all in the hospital with pneumonia,” he said.

He reminded the others that 2018 will be the 20th anniversary of the Jericho March, a national march called in 1998 by Jalil Muntaqim, who activists consider to be a political prisoner. He is serving a term of 25 years to life after being convicted in the murder of two New York City police officers. 

“We’re still here,” Rosado said. “We don’t want to be here. We would love for our brothers and sisters to all be out. We should celebrate the movement that has continued and denounce the fact that we have to have that movement.”