By Dave Lindorff
In what looks suspiciously like the methods of the old apartheid regime in South Africa, a federal district court judge here, apparently responding to a request from federal prosecutors, has restricted the freedom of travel, freedom of association and freedom of speech of several key activists in the movement to gain a new trial for Death Row inmate and black journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal.
The eight, who include C. Clark Kissinger, a member of the national coordinating committee of the Mumia movement, Mitch Cohen, a New York Green Party activist, and Francis Goldin, Abu-Jamal's 76-year-old literary agent, were arrested a year ago during a demonstration at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. Their crime, for which others were also arrested, was "failure to obey a lawful order" to disperse - usually a minor charge, and one for which those who pleaded guilty at the time were fined $250 and released.
Kissinger, Goldin, Cohen and the other members of the "Mumia 8," however, pleaded not guilty and went to trial. Found guilty, they were then slapped with much more than just a fine.
In addition to being ordered to serve a year of supervised probation, they were ordered confined to the area of their respective home federal court districts - New York City in Goldin, Cohen and Kissinger's cases - with permission to travel required from a federal probation officer.
They also had their passports impounded, were ordered to provide monthly evidence of income and expenses and must report any felons they are in contact with. All have filed appeals of their sentences.
Kissinger was denied permission go to Philadelphia last month to speak at rally on the 15th anniversary of the police bombing of the MOVE residence, where 11 people, including five children, were burned to death and an entire city block was destroyed. "My probation officer said he'd have to check with the district court," Kissinger says. "He said when they let people travel, they have to assess third party risk. Apparently our decision to take our case to court instead of pleading guilty constitutes a threat to third parties."
Kissinger calls the sentences a blatant attempt by federal prosecutors and the court "to stop our political work for Mumia" and vows "it won't work."
Former South African political prisoner and Abu-Jamal supporter Dennis Brutus, commenting on the sentences, says, "As someone who suffered various restraints, including loss of passport, I am profoundly troubled to see apartheid [tactics] replicated in the United States."