Political Prisoners in the USA

***Updated on August 5, 2020***

Read Racism, Liberation, and US Political Prisoners, an analysis of political imprisonment in the United States

This is a list of individuals who are currently incarcerated in the United States, are targets because of their actions threatening US imperial power, and who were imprisoned for their political activity. AfGJ considers them both political prisoners and “Prisoners of Empire“. We define Political Prisoners as people who are jailed based on charges related to resistance to oppression and repression. Whether the circumstances of the alleged crimes are true or false, we strenuously reject the individualized and out-of-context treatment of these cases as simply “common crimes”. Rather, they are, each and every one, related to some ongoing struggle against repression and Empire. Our listing of these prisoners does not constitute endorsement of the tactics or goals of every individual. In many cases those arrested have been clearly set up, falsely accused, railroaded, and/or denied adequate defense and basic human rights. In every instance, the cases are  political in nature, and require a political solution. We also recognize that people have a right to resist oppression, and the failure to do so is itself a crime against the people.

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 James@AFGJ.org .

Click here to see Spanish version

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Leonard Peltier, a  leader and activist in the American Indian Movement, has been in prison for 43 years as of 2020. Peltier participated in the AIM encampments on the Pine RIdge Reservation. In 1975 an FBI operation led to a confrontation in which two FBI agents died.  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.

Mumia Abu Jamal was arrested in 1981. In 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 the Free Mumia or Millions for Mumia websites.

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 the 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. 

Ivan Vargas is a citizen of Colombia and was a member of FARC. He was captured by Colombian forces and then extradited to the United States in violation of Colombia’s self-determination. He is incarcerated  here on bogus drug trafficking charges. His 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:

  • Russell Maroon Shoats
  • Jalil Muntaqim
  • Mutulu Shakur 
  • Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, formerly H. Rap Brown
  • Sundiata Acoli was with Assata Shakur (who escaped and found political asylum in Cuba),
  • Veronza Bowers, imprisoned for 40 years, was convicted of murder on the word of two government informers. There were no eye-witnesses and no evidence independent of these informants. At trial, two relatives of the informants gave testimony insisting that they were lying was ignored.
  • Ed Poindexter was a target of COINTELPRO, serving life sentences on charges of killing an Omaha policeman. He was convicted on the testimony of a teenage boy who was beaten by the police and threatened with the electric chair if he did not blame the crime on Poindexter and on Mondo we Langa (who died in prison). Amnesty International defends them as prisoners of conscience.
  • Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald, the longest held Black Panther Party prisoner,
  • Kamau Sadiki
  • Kojo Bomani Sababu (Grailing Brown) was active with the Black Liberation Army, and is a New Afrikan Prisoner of War. Sababu attempted to free Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera while they were both incarcerated in Kansas, and was convicted of conspiracy.
  • Ruchell “Cinque” Magee was already imprisoned when he appeared in a courtroom in 1970 to testify in a trial related to the Soledad Prison Revolt. There, he was spontaneously recruited into the Marin County Courthouse Rebellion, a bid to expose the racist court system and negotiate the liberation of the Soledad Brothers by taking hostages. 

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 Water Protector Prisoners are prisoners of empire who have been incarcerated for their resistance to the Dakota Access Pipe Line and its threats to the Missouri River and the Standing Rock Sioux people. Currently there are two people still serving sentences. To find out more about the Water Protectors visit:

The Water Protector Prisoners still in prison are: 

  • Red Fawn Fallis was sentenced on July 11, 2018 to 57 months in federal prison. https://www.standwithredfawn.org/
  • Michael Rattler Markus was sentenced on September 27, 2018 to 36 months in prison. https://www.facebook.com/FreeRattler

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.

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. 

Jaan Karl Laaman was a member of the 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. Arrested with Laaman was Tom Manning who died in August, 2019.

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.

Ana Belen Montes was a Pentagon intelligence analyst who alerted the Cuban government of plans the US government had of militarized aggression 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.

Matthew DeHart worked as an intelligence officer for the 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.

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.

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.

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. 

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. 

The NATO 5 were jailed in May 2012 before the NATO summit in Chicago, based on entrapment and the accusations of undercover police informants. Jared Chase still remains in prison.

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 edits for the 4struggle magazine.

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.

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. 

Alvaro Luna Hernandez (Xinachtli) 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 La Raza Unida Party candidate. La Raza Unida is a political party most active in the Southwest in the 1970s that focused 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.

Josh Williams was an active Black Lives Matter protester in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.  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. 

Stephen Kelly remains locked up in Glynn County Detention Center in Brunswick, Georgia where he is awaiting sentencing for his part in the  2018 King’s Bay Plowshares direct action for nuclear disarmament.

Fran Thompson is a long-time ecological defender. She is in jail for murder since 1994 after she successfully defended herself, killing a man who had threatened to murder her and had broken into her home. What she did was an act of personal defense against the patriarchal system, and she was also targeted because of her eco-defense, including that she was not allowed to enter a plea of self-defense.

Steve Donziger is a lawyer who won a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron because of the ecological damage they caused in Ecuador. Since that time, Chevron has removed its assets, making the judgment unenforceable, and pursued appeals and an aggressive counter lawsuit and smear campaign against Donziger. He was placed  under house arrest in 2019  awaiting trial.

Joseph Mahmoud Dibee was arrested August 10, 2018 for his participation in a series of arsons and other acts of sabotage between 1995 and 2001 for motivations of eco-defense and animal rights. Dibee was part of the Earth Liberation and Animal Liberation Fronts. Among the allegations against him are the arson of a meat packing plant in Redmond, Oregon, and a power plant in Bend, Oregon.

This is a list of people currently being detained and facing long sentences for their activities during the uprisings against racism and police brutality after George Floyd’s killing in the United States. It is very much a work in progress and subject to change, and may well contain errors. This is not a comprehensive list. This list shows people detained during the uprising and who are facing six months or more in jail.Since the uprising is ongoing, and since thousands of people have been and are being arrested, this situation is very much in flux. The repression of this movement by militarized police and federal agents is leading to a spike in politically motivated arrests and is resulting in a new wave of political prisoners and prisoners of empire. The situation is exacerbated by the leveling of felony charges against so many of those arrested for their resistance. We feel an obligation to provide a listing, even if partial, even if it lacks details, even if it contains errors, to help monitor as best as possible this part of the repression of the uprising. We very much need you and your partnership in this project. If you have information or updates that would affect our listings, if you know about people who should be listed and who are not, or if you see people who are listed who should not be, please let us know. Especially in this case, we cannot do our job accurately or adequately without your help. Please send your emails to James@AFGJ.org or to Natalia@AFGJ.org

  • Urooj Rahman and Colinford Mattis are anti-racist activists and lawyers who were arrested for allegedly throwing a Molotov cocktail through the broken window of a police car at a May 29, 2020 protest following the murder of George Floyd. They are facing a minimum sentence of 45 years and a maximum of life in prison. They are currently under house arrest, awaiting trial.
  • Brandon M. Wolfe was arrested June 3, 2020 for the arson of the Third Precinct police station in Minneapolis, and the theft of police equipment. A meme has circulated on social media claiming that Wolfe was a White Supremacist and provocateur, but the meme was anonymous and included nothing to back up the allegations. Up to now, we have seen nothing indicating Wolfe’s motivations other than the allegations that he was participating in the uprising in Minneapolis and, specifically, in the burning of the Third Precinct. Unless we receive other substantiated reports, we will consider his actions as part of the uprising and directed against police racism and violence, and his arrest to be a political detention that requires a political solution. We encourage those with more information to contact us.
  • Dylan Robinson was arrested in Colorado on June 14, 2020, after a video was posted on Snapchat allegedly showing him setting fire to a police station. He is now being held in Minnesota, awaiting trial.
  • Alexandria Dea and Viet Tran were charged on July 7, 2020 with a rarely applied count of unauthorized dissemination of intelligence data. On July 1, 2020, police in Des Moines, Iowa arrested 17 Black Lives Matters protesters. During the protest, Dea retrieved paper from the back pocket of a police officer with information and photos of resistors suspected of burning of a police car. Tran publicly displayed the document at a protest at the state capitol to demand the release of those who had been detained on July 1st. Dea has additionally been charged with theft of the document, which carries a maximum sentence of ten years. We do not know if Dea has been released, but according to our latest information, Tran is still in jail because his actions were counted as violations of his parole stemming from the July 1 arrests.
  • Lore-Elisabeth Blumenthal. Blumenthal is a Philadelphia woman accused of torching two police cars during protests outside City Hall on May 30. The FBI was able to track down Blumenthal through Instagram, Etsy, and LinkedIn. At this moment, she remains at the Federal Detention Center in Center City, held without bail, and faces a seven-year mandatory minimum sentence if convicted. However, If convicted, the defendant could face a maximum sentence of 80 years in prison.

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 40 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.