Political Prisoners in the USA

This is a list of individuals who are currently incarcerated in the U.S, are targets because of their actions threatening US imperial power, and who were imprisoned for their political activity. AfGJ considers them political prisoners and “Prisoners of Empire”. Please see the notes at the bottom of the page regarding Guantanamo Bay, immigrant detention, and mass incarceration. We want to acknowledge Stan Smith and the Chicago Committee to Free the Five (773-376-7521, uscubachi@yahoo.com) for initiating this project and compiling the original list in 2013. 

We need your help. This list is an ongoing draft. If you see any mistakes, persons who should be listed who are not included, have updates on the status of political prisoners or have any other questions or comments, please send them to nasim@AFGJ.org.

Click here to see Spanish version

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Leonard Peltier is an activist in the American Indian Movement. In a COINTELPRO style operation, he was sentenced to life for murdering two FBI agents. Evidence exonerating Peltier was withheld by the FBI. In his appeal, the government admitted it had no evidence to show he killed the two FBI agents. Peltier has been imprisoned for 35 years for this crime that he did not commit. To learn more see Robert Redford’s documentary “Incident at Oglala” or visit http://whoisleonardpeltier.info.

Mumia Abu Jamal is the most prominent political prisoner in the US. In 1981, COINTELPRO style, he was arrested and sentenced to death in an unfair trial for the murder of a Philadelphia policeman. Mumia was an organizer and campaigner against police abuses in the African-American community, and was the President of the Association of Black Journalists. During his imprisonment he has published several books and other commentaries, notably Live from Death Row. See documentaries “Mumia Abu Jamal: A Case For Reasonable Doubt?” and “Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary” or visit http://freemumia.com/ or http://millions4mumia.org.

Simón Trinidad, aka Ricardo Palmera, is a long-time leader of mass movements for social change, and was a top negotiator for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP). He was arrested in 2004 in Ecuador in the process of negotiating with the UN for their release of FARC prisoners. He was then extradited to the U.S. on charges of narco-trafficking and kidnapping and subjected to four separate trials due to the difficulty the prosecution had in securing a conviction. A Colombian government spokesperson told the Alliance for Global Justice in April 2015 that the repatriation of Trinidad to Colombia is key to the success of the peace talks between FARC-EP and the Colombian Government. So far, the US government has refused. Learn more at http://freericardopalmera.org.

Sonia Anayibe Rojas Valderrama and Ivan Vargas are citizens of Colombia and members of FARC. In separate cases, they were captured by Colombian forces and then extradited to the United States in violation of Colombia’s self-determination. Both are incarcerated in here on bogus drug trafficking charges. Their repatriation to Colombia is important to create the conditions for stable peace between FARC and the Colombian government.

Black Panther Party (BPP), New Afrikan, and Black Liberation Army political prisoners were victims of the COINTELPRO operations in the 1960s-70s when the FBI sought to destroy the Black liberation movement. Those currently incarcerated include, but are not limited to:

To learn more about Black Panther Party (BPP), New Afrikan, and Black Liberation Army political prisoners, see the documentary films The FBI’s War on Black America: COINTELPRO, Cointelpro 101, or visit the Prison Activist Resource Center and the Jericho Movement.

The MOVE 9 were sentenced to 30-100 in prison After the August 8, 1978 siege of their Philadelphia home by 600 heavily armed cops. The entire group was falsely convicted of killing a police officer who died in the cops’ own cross fire, despite the trial judge’s statement that he had no idea who shot the officer. The MOVE 9 were part of the communally-living, radical black MOVE family, a longstanding target of the Philadelphia city government. In 1985, eleven MOVE family members, including five children, were massacred by Philly cops when a bomb was dropped on their living quarters. Merle Africa and Phil Africa died in prison. Debbie, Delbert, Charles Sims, Eddie, Janet, Janine, Mike Africa remain in jail. http://move9parole.blogspot.com

Fred “Muhammad” Burton was jailed in 1970 during a time of massive police crackdowns on black activists in Philadelphia, and framed for the murder of a policeman. http://www.advocateforjustice.net/SupportFreedomForFrederickBurton.html

Richard Mafundi Lake was an activist in Birmingham, Alabama during the civil rights movement. Lake was involved in community defense work, making him a continuous target of the police. He was sentenced to life in prison under Alabama’s Habitual Offender rule in 1983. Lake has continued his activism behind bars, taught a black history class, and helped found the Inmates For Action defense fund. http://beforeitsnews.com/african-american-news/2017/01/attorney-general-loretta-lynch-grant-compassionate-release-to-richard-mafundi-lake-2458616.html

David Gilbert is a radical left wing activist and was a member of the Weather Underground, a militant leftist group active in the 1970s. He helped found Colombia University’s chapter of Students for a Democratic Society. Gilbert took part in a botched bank robbery in 1981 along with members of the Black Liberation Army, and was sentenced to 75 years in prison. http://abcf.net/prisoners/gilbert.htm

Jaan Karl Laaman and Tom Manning were members of United Freedom Front, an underground leftist group that bombed government and corporate buildings in the 1970s, funding their tactics through bank expropriations. They strongly opposed South African apartheid and US imperialism in Central American. Laaman writes and edits for the 4struggle magazine. https://www.facebook.com/Free-Jaan-Laaman-893324014061467/; http://prisonersolidarity.net/prisoner/tom-manning

Rev. Joy Powell was a consistent activist against police brutality, violence and oppression in her community. She was warned by the Rochester Police that she was a target because of her speaking out against corruption. Rev. Joy, a Black woman, was convicted of burglary and assault by an all-white jury; the state provided no evidence and no eyewitnesses. She was given 16 years. http://freejoypowell.org

Ana Belen Montes was a Pentagon intelligence analyst who alerted the Cuban government of plans the US government had of militarized agression against Cuba. Belen Montes told the judge who heard her case, “I engaged in the activity that brought me before you because I obeyed my conscience rather than the law…We have displayed intolerance and contempt towards Cuba for most of the last four decades. I hope my case in some way will encourage our government to abandon its hostility towards Cuba and to work with Havana in a spirit of tolerance, mutual respect, and understanding.” She was arrested in 2001, pled guilty to one count of espionage, and is being held in solitary confinement in a Fort Worth, Texas. http://www.prolibertad.org/ana-belen-montes

Jeremy Hammond was arrested in 2012 for the hacking of Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (Stratfor), leaking information to Wikileaks showing that Stratfor spies on human rights activists at the behest of corporations and the U.S. government. He has been denied bail and held in solitary confinement, facing a maximum sentence of ten years. http://freejeremy.net

Matthew DeHart worked as an intelligence officer for US National Guard. He was involved with Wikileaks and the hacktivist group Anonymous. Prior to his arrest DeHart ran a server that housed documents bound for Wikileaks. When sensitive documents about the CIA were uploaded to the server by an anonymous third party, DeHart was targeted by the federal government, and was drugged and interrogated about the documents. The federal government brought charges of child pornography against him, allowing them to gain access to his computers. https://mattdehart.com/

Patrice Lumumba Ford was a Muslim targeted after 9-11 as part of the Portland Seven. Lumumba accepted a plea agreement, but he refused to further the “war on terror” by helping with more prosecutions. For that refusal, he was sentenced to 18 years in a maximum-security federal prison on “conspiracy” charges. http://freelumumba.org

Amina Ali and Hawo Hassan were convicted of “material support for terrorism” in 2011, and given 20 and 10 year sentences respectively. The two Rochester, Minnesota women had collected clothing and raised money to help destitute people in their homeland. The prosecution claims that they helped al-Shabab, an Islamist organization that fights to free Somalia from foreign domination.

Shukri Abu-Baker and Ghassan Elashi of the Holy Land Foundation, were each sentenced in 2008 to 65 years in prison. Three others of the Holy Land 5 were sentenced to 13-20 years: Mohammad El-Mezain, Abdulrahman Odeh and Mufid Abdulqader. All were imprisoned for giving more than $12 million to charitable groups in Palestine which funded hospitals, schools and fed the poor and orphans. The U.S. government said these groups were controlled by Hamas, a group it lists as a terrorist organization. Hamas is the elected government of Gaza. Some of these charitable committees were also still receiving US funding through USAID as late as 2006. Testimony was given in the case by an Israeli government agent whose identity and evidence was kept secret from the defense. This was the first time in American legal history that testimony has been allowed from an expert witness with no identity, and therefore immune from perjury. The defendants were acquitted in their first trial when the jury remained deadlocked. http://freedomtogive.com

Dr. Aafia Siddiqui is an American-educated Pakistani neuroscientist who was convicted in a U.S. court of assault with intent to murder her U.S. interrogators in Afghanistan and sentenced to 86 years in prison. Four British Parliamentarians wrote to President Obama “there was an utter lack of concrete evidence tying Dr. Siddiqui to the weapon she allegedly fired at a US officer”, calling for her to be freed immediately. The weapon she allegedly fired in the small interrogation room did not have her fingerprints, nor was there evidence the gun was fired. http://freeaafia.org

Dr. Rafil Dhafir founded the charity, Help the Needy in direct response to the humanitarian catastrophe created by the brutal sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. For 13 years before his arrest, he publicized the plight of the Iraqi people and raised funds to help them. According to the government, Dhafir donated $1.4 million of his own money over the years. As an oncologist, he was also concerned about the effects of depleted uranium on the Iraqi population which was experiencing skyrocketing cancer rates. In February 2003, just before the second US war on Iraq, Dhafir was arrested as a “funder of terrorism,” though no evidence was presented at trial. Dhafir was sentenced to 22 years in prison connected to breaking the sanctions against Iraq. http://dhafirtrial.net

Dr. Abdelhaleem Ashqar was found guilty in 2007 of “refusal to collaborate with federal grand juries investigating the Palestinian anti-occupation movement”. Despite being aquitted of initial charges of racketeering, he was sentenced to prison for 11 years. Dr. Ashqar, formerly a professor at Howard University, has long been a victim of government surveillance, harrasment, and intimidation for his support of Hamas and the people of Palestine. http://www.muslimlinkpaper.com/community-news/community-news/3834-jailed-and-abandoned-abdelhaleem-ashqar-continues-to-live-by-his-principles.html

Brandon Baxter, Joshua “Skelly” Stafford, Connor Stevens, and Doug Wright are the Cleveland 4. They were Occupy Cleveland activists arrested on April 30th, 2012 for planning to blow up a bridge. However, the FBI had infiltrated Occupy Cleveland, created the scheme, and incited the group to join in on the plans. Occupy is a decentralized political protest movement against social and economic inequality, most active from 2011 and 2012. In many US cities, including Cleveland, Occupy protesters formed long-term encampments in central plazas and squares. http://www.cleveland4solidarity.org/ 

The NATO 5 were jailed in May 2012 before the NATO summit in Chicago, based on entrapment and the accusations of undercover police informants. Brent Betterly is now released, Jared Chase remains in prison, Brian Church is in a halfway house awaiting release. Sebastian Senakiewicz was deported to Poland. Mark Neiweem has been released. http://nato5support.wordpress.com

Bill Dunne is an an anti-authoritarian who was arrested in 1979 for the attempted liberation of an anarchist political prisoner. Dunne is politically active in prison. He organizes solidarity 5k runs with the Anarchist Black Cross, helps educate fellow inmates, and writes and edites for the 4struggle magazine. http://www.thejerichomovement.com/profile/dunne-bill

Marius Mason (formerly known as Marie Mason) is an environmental political prisoner serving a 22 year sentence. In March 2008, Marius was arrested for vandalism of a laboratory creating genetically modified organisms for Monsanto. He was charged with arson for this and for damaging logging equipment in 1999 and 2000. No one was harmed by these actions. Marius pled guilty to arson charges, but the judge applied a “terrorism enhancement.” He was sentenced to 22 years, and is now serving the longest sentence of any “Green Scare” prisoner. http://supportmariemason.org

Joseph Buddenberg was arrested and convicted along with Nicole Kissane on federal terrorism charges for freeing animals on fur farms. Buddenberg, an animal rights activist and vegan, was sentenced to two years in federal prison. The law under which he was charged, the Conspiracy to Violate the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, is “bought and paid for by corporations that profit fromt the exploitation of animals”, says Rachel Meeropol of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Buddenberg is being held in prison in California, while Kissane will serve out her sentence in Ireland. https://supportnicoleandjoseph.com/

Norman Lowry is an antiwar activist who is serving a sentence of 7 years for blocking the entrance of an army recruitment facility while attempting to dissuade soliders from murdering in the name of the US government. A judge told Lowry that unless he renounced his nonviolent tactics, he would not be released for parole before fully completing his sentence. He has been in prison since 2012. http://normanlowry.blogspot.com/

Abdul Azeez, Malik Smith, and Hanif Shabazz Bey are from the US occupied Virgin Islands, and are the three members of the Virgin Island Five who are still incarcerated. After a murder of eight American tourists to the island during a period of anti-imperial struggle against the US, the five men were targeted for being supporters of the anti-imperial struggle, falsely accused of murdering the Americans, and tortured. They were each given eight consecutive life sentences and are currently imprisoned in Arizona.

Byron Shane “Oso Blanco” Chubbuck is a member of the wolf clan Cherokee/Chocktaw. He expropriated money from over a dozen US banks to give to the Zapatistas of Chiapas, Mexico. He became known as “Robin the Hood” because he would let the bank tellers know that he was taking the money to give to the poor. http://freeosoblanco.blogspot.com/

Alvaro Luna Hernandez is a Chicano community organizer and prison activist. He was the National Coordinator of the Ricardo Aldape Guerra Defense Committee and involved in anti-police brutality activism in Houston. He was continually targeted by the police, who in 1996 attempted to arrest him for a spurious robbery charge that was later dismissed. The police used violence to arrest him, but after a days-long manhunt, it was ultimately Luna Hernandez who was sentenced to 50 years in prison on trumped up charges of threatening a sheriff while resisting arrest. http://www.freealvaro.net/

Ramsey Muñiz is a Chicano activist who ran for governor of Texas in 1972 and 1974 as the Raza Unida Party candidate. La Raza Unida is a political party most active in the Southwest in the 1970s that focusing on working class issues and Chicano nationalism. Members faced repression for posing a serious threat to the two-party status-quo. Muñiz faced two drug-related charges and pled guilty before the three-strikes law was implemented. In 1994, he went to prison for life for his “third-strike.” Muñiz and his supporters maintain that the charge that sent him to prison for life was a frame-up. http://www.freeramsey.com/

Red Fawn Fallis is a community leader within the Oglala Lakota Sioux. In 2016 she was a protester at Standing Rock, North Dakota, where the U.S. federal government was building a pipeline that will threaten sacred Native American land and water. The police violently confronted a group of protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets. Police claimed that Red Fawn was being unruly, and tackled her. Police accused Red Fawn of firing a weapon, although eye witness accounts claim otherwise. She is awaiting trial in federal prison. http://indi.com/freeredfawn

Josh Williams was an active Black Lives Matter protester in Ferguson, Missouri. He participated in the protests against police brutality, sparked by the shooting of an unarmed teenager by a police officer. At the age of 19, Williams was sentenced to 8 years in prison for arson, burglary, and stealing. He entered a QuickTrip convenience store, which had previously been broken into by other looters, and lit fires inside and outside the store. His shockingly long sentence by a St. Louis judge was meant to intimidate other protestors against police brutality. Williams will be released in 2021. http://www.riverfronttimes.com/newsblog/2015/12/11/ferguson-protesters-express-shock-at-eight-year-sentence-for-joshua-williams

Guantanamo inmates are prisoners held in indefinite detention without trial, most since 2002. The Guantanamo Prison, part of the US base there illegally occupying Cuban land, is notorious for its inhumane and degrading conditions and systemic use of torture. According to Witness Against Torture there are 55 prisoners at the prison despite 16 of them having been cleared for release. http://closeguantanamo.org, http://www.witnesstorture.org

Immigrant detention centers hold undocumented workers, families and students. Every year more than 400,000 immigrants are detained, and on any given day there are around 40,000 persons in immigrant detention centers. These individuals are jailed because of the US’s fervent anti-immigrant political ideology.

As recently as the 1980s, immigrants were rarely detained. They were either accused of misdemeanors and quickly deported or permitted to go about their lives pending immigration hearings. In recent years there has been a massive boom in immigrant detention and deportation. Even though we are experiencing the lowest level of immigration from Mexico into the US in 45 years, private immigrant detention centers are a booming and highly protected industry. The US government has promised to supply enough undocumented immigrants to keep 36,000 beds in detention centers occupied all year round.

Racism, class repression, and xenophobia are the political forces underlying the boom in immigrant detainees. The US government increasingly criminalizes undocumented people. Rather than treating them like low-level civil offenders, our new policy is to target them arbitrarily, and once they are arrested to lock them up. Being undocumented is a highly-politicized crime. Those incarcerated in immigration detention centers are a class of Prisoners of Empire too numerous to name.

Mass incarceration is a foundational element of racist and anti-worker oppression. Not every target of state repression makes it to jail or is given a chance to defend themselves in court or even be charged with a crime. Many of those who die as a result of state-sanctioned violence are guilty of nothing more than fitting an ethnic profile that makes one a suspect by virtue of the color of their skin. Every 28 hours in 2012 someone employed or protected by the US government killed a Black man, woman or child.

While non-hispanic Whites make up 63.7% of the US population, people of African heritage and Latinos make up almost two thirds of those in US jails. Persons lacking a GED or high school diploma make up 47 percent of inmates, and the annual income of the incarcerated, prior to their arrests, was 41% less than their peers among the un-incarcerated.

With under 5% of the world’s population, the US jails 25% of the world prison population, with 2.3 million prisoners. The development and growth of the mass incarceration model took place at the same time crime rates have been in decline. The primary purpose of the US prison system appears to be about social control, intimidation of resistance and the maintenance of a massive and legal form of slave labor.

Conditions in US prisons reflect a lack of basic health care, isolation from family and community, lack of educational opportunity, widespread incidents of torture and beatings, and generally degrading treatment. US prisons hold over 80,000 persons in solitary confinement. In 2012 alone the Justice Department estimates there had been 216,000 victims of prison rape.

While we do not call all prisoners political prisoners, we must note that they are all subjects to a politically motivated system of oppression. The repercussions of the US incarceration model are felt acutely far beyond the locked doors and bars of our jails. The politics of fear is diffused throughout US society, particularly for poor people and racial minorities. We have seven million US residents who are in prison, on parole or on probation. When we consider the massive government monitoring of our population, we can justifiably call the United States a prison nation.