While most of us were celebrating New Year’s Eve last Tuesday, former activist lawyer Lynne Stewart and her family were celebrating her freedom. On December 31, she was granted a compassionate release from a prison in Fort Worth, Texas by a federal judge and the following day she was back home in Brooklyn.
In 2005 Lynne Stewart was found guilty of helping Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman (the client she was defending at the time) communicate with supporters. She was sentenced to 28 months in prison and later resentenced for 10 years. Prior to her conviction Stewart was an attorney who represented many economically disadvantaged and anti-establishment defendants such as members of the Weather Underground and Black Panthers.
In 2005, Stewart was also diagnosed with breast cancer and due to her sentencing, crucial and potentially life-saving surgery was delayed for 18 months. By the time she received treatment, her cancer reached Stage Four and had metastasized to the point that her operating physician commented that her condition was the worst he had seen. By December 2013 she was also diagnosed with anemia, high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes, and was likely to have only 18 months left to live according to her doctor.
Despite the fact that Lynne Stewart never should have served such a sentence for trumped up charges designed to hype the pointless “War on Terror” in the first place, it’s fortunate that such a courageous person deserving of respect won’t die alone in prison. Her release is a victory for her family, friends, and countless supporters who fought tirelessly for her cause, including Justice for Lynne Stewart, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild, independent news outlets including Building Bridges Radio, Law and Disorder Radio, and Black Agenda Report, and public figures such as Desmond Tutu, William Pepper, Mark Lane, and Dick Gregory. In support of Stewart’s release, Gregory had this to say:
“The reason for the prosecution and persecution of Lynne Stewart is evident to us all. It was designed to intimidate the entire legal community so that few would dare to defend political clients whom the State demonizes and none would provide a vigorous defense. It also was designed to narrow the meaning of our cherished first amendment right to free speech, which the people of this country struggled to have added to the Constitution as the Bill of Rights.”