By Sharon Danann
Published Jan 3, 2011 9:19 PM
Update: As of Jan. 4, Siddique Abdullah Hasan and Jason Robb started their hunger strikes.
Four death-sentenced prisoners, wrongfully convicted of crimes following the 1993 prison rebellion in the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio, started a “rolling” hunger strike Jan. 3. The strike is to protest the highly restrictive solitary confinement where they have been placed in the supermax Ohio State Penitentiary, located in Youngstown, since 1998.
These prisoners, the majority Black, are starting to run out of appeals. They say they would rather die, if they must, on their own terms, rather than on a gurney by lethal injection. They intend for the hunger strike to help strike a blow against confinement conditions so inhumane that they amount to torture.
Bomani Shakur (convicted as Keith LaMar) was the first to refuse food. He writes in a public statement, “If we must die, we should be allowed to do so with dignity, which is all we’re asking: the opportunity to pursue our appeals unimpeded, to be able to touch our friends and family, and to no longer be treated as playthings but as human beings who are facing the ultimate penalty.” (Read his full statement on workers.org.)
The plan is that on Jan. 6, Iman Siddique Abdullah Hasan will join the hunger strike. Imam Hasan, a leader of the Sunni Muslims during the 1993 rebellion, was one of several negotiators for the prisoners. The resulting settlement prevented a reoccurrence of the massacre that took place during the Attica, N.Y., prison rebellion in 1971. Hasan’s “reward” was a death sentence.
Jason Robb is scheduled to start refusing meals on Jan. 9. Robb, an anti-racist leader of the Aryan Brotherhood, was also a negotiator during the 1993 uprising. Finally, Namir Abdul Mateen (aka James Were) will join the hunger strike to the extent that his health permits.
As seen in the recent prisoner strike in Georgia, the once-hostile Ohio prisoner groupings forged a powerful unity during the 1993 rebellion that has stood the test of time.
The four prisoners went on another hunger strike together in 1996 with George Skatzes, the fifth prisoner to receive the death penalty following the uprising. This hunger strike achieved its aim: Skatzes was transferred out of OSP for medical reasons.
The current hunger strike is up against a warden, David Bobby, who has publicly made it known that he will not give any ground to the hunger strikers.
Ohio executions on the rise
The bigger picture is that Ohio is inaugurating a new governor, John Kasich, who is an extreme right-winger. Ohio could set a new record for executions, which is already second only to Texas. Ohio was the only state to perform more executions in 2010 than in 2009.
The severe sensory deprivation that the four prisoners have suffered for so long is vindictive punishment for the death of a guard in the 1993 uprising. They have been deliberately kept at the most restrictive security level, Level 5, since they were brought to OSP, in spite of good behavior and cooperation with prison programs. During one of the annual reviews, prison authorities stated in writing, “Your placement offense is so severe that you should remain at the OSP permanently or for many years regardless of your behavior while confined at the OSP.” (http://tinyurl.com/3aywndt)
Supporters of the hunger strikers will gather at the gates of OSP on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Jan. 15, for a rally and press conference. There will be reports on the status of the hunger strikers, statements from the prisoners and solidarity messages from across the country and around the world.
These prisoners’ convictions should be re-examined immediately given that in recent years key witnesses have recanted damaging testimony against them. These convictions need to be overturned and new trials granted. Attorney Staughton Lynd has provided proof that these convictions relied almost exclusively on witnesses who perjured themselves in exchange for reduced sentences. (Capital University Law Review, Spring 2008, vol. 36, no. 3, p. 559, “Napue Nightmares: Perjured Testimony in Trials Following the 1993 Lucasville, Ohio, Prison Uprising”)
An international movement to support these hunger strikers and to end all inhumane treatment of prisoners is gathering momentum. Now is the time to get on board. Sign the electronic petition in support of the Lucasville hunger strikers at the International Action Center website, www.iacenter.org, to demand that the Ohio prison authorities and elected officials allow these heroic prisoners to have their security levels fairly evaluated and reclassified so that at the very least they can have the same privileges as other death row prisoners.
Daily updates will be posted on the Facebook site “In Solidarity with the Lucasville Uprising Prisoners on Hunger Strike,” as well as on the IAC website.
Free all political prisoners, including the hunger strikers! Humane treatment for all prisoners! Dismantle the profit-making prison-industrial complex!
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