The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia is due to consider a crucial decision today, whether or not to confirm the death sentence for independent journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has been on death row since 1982. It will also be a decisive moment for the rule of law in the “world’s leading democracy.”
Reporters Without Borders, whose Washington representative visited Abu-Jamal in Waynesburg penitentiary in August, will attend the hearing. A nine-member French delegation including five national and regional elected representatives and members of the Mumia Abu-Jamal French National Collective (http://www.mumiabujamal.net/) will also be in court.
Demonstrations are due to be held today outside US consular and diplomatic offices in seven French cities – Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Rennes and Toulouse.
After rejecting appeals by Abu-Jamal’s lawyer, Robert R. Bryan, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling last January sending the case back to the Philadelphia court, which must now decide whether to uphold the sentence or call for a new trial.
A onetime Black Panther activist who became a radio journalist in the 1970s, Abu-Jamal was sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer, Daniel Faulkner, in Philadelphia on 9 December 1981. Before his arrest he had come to be known as the “voice of the voiceless” because of his criticism of local government abuses and corruption.
We, Reporters Without Borders, are of the opinion that:
Mumia-Abu-Jamal has not been given a fair trial and should therefore be retried with every guarantee of impartiality.
Mumia Abu-Jamal’s death sentence only further exacerbates public indignation against an unfair trial, inasmuch as the element of doubt should benefit any accused person under any Rule of Law.
The fact that Mumia Abu-Jamal is a militant journalist was a factor that weighed in favor of his death sentence in 1982, a decision that flies in the face of every principle of freedom of conscience and freedom of expression upheld by the United States Constitution.
The law adopted by the State of Pennsylvania in 1996—also called the “Mumia Law”—prohibiting any photographs, sound recordings or films to be made of a prisoner sentenced to death violates the principle of the free circulation of information ratified by the U.S. Constitution and federal law.
The death penalty is incompatible with the Rule of Law and should be abolished in the United States and in every other country in which it is still applied or maintained in principle.
Reporters Without Borders regrets that Bryan, who had represented Abu-Jamal in recent years, resigned as his defence lawyer a few days ago, and hopes that his departure will not have a negative impact on today’s hearing.