Stand in Solidarity with Marion-CMU Prison Hunger Strikers

As found on Facebook:

Stand in Solidarity with Marion-CMU Prison Hunger Strikers
by JusticeFor Shifa on Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 2:27am ·

SOLIDARITY WITH MARION-CMU PRISON HUNGER STRIKERS

In April 2012, Shifa and a group of Muslim American political prisoners in the Communication Management Unit (CMU) at Marion, IL were on hunger strike. Since September 2011 the new Warden and her staff have been horribly abusing and violating Muslim inmates increasingly– harassing during individual and congregational prayer times, revoking religiously prescribed meal, banning spiritual educational programs, torturing with lights turned on in the cells 24/7, and terminating communication with the outside world– and denying their constitutionally granted human rights. Seeing the atrocious, inhumane mistreatment of Muslim prisoners, the non-Muslim inmates also went on hunger strike in solidarity. The Warden tried to silence Muslim prisoners by punishing them in solitary confinement and barring their communication.

Although Shifa has been removed from Marion-CMU to Terre Haute, Indiana, Justice for Shifa Support Committee stands in solidarity with the Muslim political prisoners who have been on hunger strike in the Communication Management Unit (CMU) at Marion, IL. Faith-based segregated imprisonment and isolation at the CMU-Marion egregiously targets, discriminates, silences and abuses a minority religious group collectively. At its core it also represses a group for practicing their faith and demanding their constitutionally granted rights to religious freedom.

We see clear lines connecting the CMU-Marion struggle to the California hunger striker’s struggle– demanding their constitutional and human rights– and preceding decades of prisoner-led demands to their rights throughout the prison system.

The demands of Muslim prisoners include: religiously prescribed meal, individual and congregational prayers, religious and spiritual classes and educational programs, and contacts with family and friends.

The CMU-Marion political prisoners’ demands resonate strongly with what Justice for Shifa Support Committee believes are part of our human rights to freedom of religion and granting these rights to prisoners is a way to make our communities free of religious bigotry and racial oppression.

We believe the US Government established these two ‘secret’ units, CMUs in Illinois and Indiana, inside the Federal Prison System to harass and prevent Muslim prisoners from practicing their faith. We believe the US is engaged in violent ‘missionizing projects’ using the CMUs and the prison system to coercively assimilate Muslims to abandon their faith and spiritual life– by targeting and banning their basic spiritual and religious practices– in violation of the US Constitution and the Universal Decleration of Human Rights.

We encourage people everywhere to stand in solidarity with the CMU-Marion political prisoner hunger strikers and forge connections across the prison walls meant to disappear so many of our loved ones, friends and neighbors.

Justice for Shifa Support Committee demands an investigation into the incidences at CMU-Marion, removal of the abusive Warden, and a stop to all missionizing tactics of the government under the guise of fighting the War on Terror.
…..

Stand in Solidarity with CMU-Marion Political Prisoners and Send the Following Letter to the Warden and the Following Officials.

Date

Wendy J. Roel, Warden
4500 Prison Rd
Marion, IL 62959

Dear Warden Roel,

I am writing to express my deep concern over the pattern of harassment and mistreatment of Muslim inmates while in your custody in the Communication Management Unit (CMU) at USP-Marion.

It appears that your administration has recently placed many Muslims in solitary confinement without explanation. In addition, their right to freely practice the Muslim faith has been severely impaired on multiple occasions, forcing them to go on a hunger strike. Numerous CMU inmates from your facility have been complaining about illegal activities that your administration and staff are engaging in to deny Muslim religious and spiritual services under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and BOP regulations as well as the First Amendment.

According to reports, these abuses have worsened since your administration began in September 2011. The reports allege either you personally or your staff are engaging in the following pattern of misconduct and illegal behavior:

1) Walking in on Muslims in the Chapel during Friday religious services and interrupting service while the Muslim preacher delivers the sermon.

2) Cancelling several religious and spiritual classes that were approved by the Bureau of Prison staff and taught for several months before your arrival.

3) Refusing to provide religiously prescribed Muslim meals, Halal meals and food items which were approved by the Chaplain and Trust Fund Supervisor at the BOP.

4) Barring Muslim inmates from observing religious practices and holidays

5) Causing health problems by keeping lights on in the cells 24/7

6) Harassing Muslim inmates during their individual and congregational prayers

7) Denying Muslims morning prayer

8) Banning congregational Muslim prayer

9) Stopping all educational and rehabilitative programs for Muslims

10) Prohibiting communication with the outside world

The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) protects the religious rights of federal inmates. It appears that your facility has been involved in serious discrimination against Muslim inmates. I request that the following actions be taken immediately:

Provide information on protocol and procedures regarding maintenance of prisoner safety, adherence to prisoner requests regarding communication with family members;

Provide information about measures that have been taken to ensure CMU Muslim inmates are able to observe and practice their faith freely;

Ensure that Muslim inmates constitutionally protected right to freely practice their religion is not being violated while they are in your facility;

Provide all Muslim inmates with a formal written apology

Ensure Muslim inmates will not be retaliated against as a result of this complaint;

Compensate all Muslim inmates for the emotional distress they may have suffered as a result of the extreme illegal discrimination;

Provide information about the type of cultural and religious sensitivity training is conducted for corrections personnel;

I look forward to a positive and swift resolution to this matter. Issues of such severe violations of civil and religious rights are of grave concern to me as an American citizen. I will continue to monitor this situation very closely and take any appropriate action that it deems necessary, including seeking further public attention for this case.

I appreciate you taking prompt action to remedy these serious issues inside CMU-Marion.

Sincerely, [your name]

Cc:

Thomas E. Perez

Assistant Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Office of the Assistant Attorney General
Washington, DC 20530

Michael E. Horowitz
Inspector General
US Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20530

Director Charles E. Samuels, Jr.
U.S. Department of Justice
Federal Bureau of Prisons
320 First Street, NW
Washington, DC 20534

Patrick Leahy
United States Senate
Committee on the Judiciary
224 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Manfred Nowak
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Palais Wilson
52 Rue Des Paquis
CH – 201 Geneva, Switzerland

Congressman John Conyers
United States House of Representative
2426 Rayburn H.O.B
Washington, DC 20515

Attorney Alan Mills
Uptown People’s Law Center
4413 N. Sheridan
Chicago, IL 60640

Inmates, Vermont prisons in conflict over Muslim prayer services

In: Burlington Free Press
Nov. 28, 2011

An inmate’s right to practice his religion is well-worn territory in Vermont’s prisons.

In 1994, Muslim inmates at the St. Albans prison complained they had to fight for their right to practice their religion. Prison officials said the issue represented growing pains as they became accustomed to an increasingly diverse population.

In 2007, the state, which was under pressure from national religious rights groups, changed its rules to allow inmates to attend any religious service of their choosing.
In 2008, the state paid a $25,000 settlement to a Jewish inmate who accused the prison of denying him kosher food for Passover.

So it would seem in 2011 that inmates’ access to weekly prayer services would be well-established.
Not so, said inmate Gregory Sierras, a Muslim who said he and other inmates this year have had to fight for their right to hold Friday prayer services and receive pre-dawn and after-dusk meals during Ramadan in the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport.

Read the rest here

Va. Muslim inmate case settled

Washington Post, 11/24/2010
By the Associated Press

Virginia has settled a lawsuit filed by a Muslim inmate who claimed the prisons system violated his rights by refusing him an Islamic newspaper and religious programs.

Red Onion State Prison inmate Kelvin Brown, 37, sued the warden and other prison officials after numerous issues of the weekly Islamic newspaper The Final Call were banned beginning in 2009.

The Department of Corrections bans material it says promotes violence or is detrimental to safety. Brown, who is serving a life sentence for robbery and other charges, was not told why the issues were banned.

In the settlement, the state agreed to allow inmates to receive the previously banned issues and to offer an explanation if other issues are banned in the future. It also agreed to allow Islamic television programming and written materials to be distributed.

It’s the third recent case in which the state has settled a lawsuit or been told by a judge to revise its literature policies.

In September, the state settled a case involving a ban on issues of Prison Legal News, a magazine that reports on prisoner rights and criminal justice issues. That same month, a federal judge declared a policy unconstitutional that denied inmates access to classic literature with sexually explicit passages but allows them to receive Playboy magazine.

“The Virginia Department of Corrections has been out of control when it comes to censoring literature coming into the prisons,” said Jeff Fogel, the attorney in both The Final Call and Prison Legal News lawsuits.

Fogel said despite the recent success in challenging the policy, the problem persists.

“This problem will not be solved until the Department of Corrections fully realizes that it has no right to impose political or religious orthodoxy,” he said.

Department of Corrections spokesman Larry Traylor said the agency does not comment on litigation.

According to the lawsuit, Brown had been a member of the Nation of Islam since 1993 and had subscribed to the newspaper since then as he served time at various state prisons.

At Red Onion, inmates are held in their cells 23 hours a day with limited contact to other prisoners. There are no religious services or programs devoted to the Muslim faith.

Between January and May 2009, 22 issues of The Final Call were banned, and virtually every issue since then has been prohibited.

Brown argued that because he was never told why the issues were banned, he could not appeal the decision of the Publication Review Committee.

Read the rest here.

Segregated Federal Units Target Muslims, Activists

CCR Challenges Experimental Prison Units that Restrict Communication and Forbid Physical Contact with Family Without Due Process

Segregated Federal Units Target Muslims, Activists

http://ccrjustice.org/newsroom/press-releases/ccr-challenges-experimental-prison-units-restrict-communication-and-forbid-p

CONTACT: press@ccrjustice.org

March 30, 2010, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a lawsuit challenging violations of fundamental constitutional rights, including the right to due process, at two experimental federal prison units called “Communications Management Units” (CMUs). The units are being used overwhelmingly to hold Muslim prisoners and prisoners with unpopular political beliefs.

CCR filed Aref v. Holder in the D.C. District Court on behalf of five current and former prisoners of the units in Terre Haute, IN and Marion, IL; two other plaintiffs are the spouses of prisoners. The CMUs were secretly opened under the Bush administration in 2006 and 2007 respectively and were designed to monitor and control the communications of certain prisoners and to isolate them from other prisoners and the outside world.

Transfers to the CMU are not explained; nor are prisoners told how release into less restrictive confinement may be earned as there is no review process. Lawyers say that because these transfers are not based on facts or discipline for infractions, a pattern of religious and political discrimination and retaliation for prisoners’ lawful advocacy has emerged. The five plaintiffs in Aref were designated to the two CMUs despite having relatively or totally clean disciplinary histories, and none of the plaintiffs have received any communications-related disciplinary infractions in the last decade. Several of the plaintiffs expect to serve the entire remaining duration of their sentences at the CMU.

“These units are an experiment in social isolation,” said CCR Attorney Alexis Agathocleous. “People are being put in these extraordinarily restrictive units without being told why and without any meaningful review. Dispensing with due process creates a situation ripe for abuse; in this case, it has allowed for a pattern of religious profiling, retaliation and arbitrary punishment. This is precisely what the rule of law and the Constitution forbid.”

In addition to heavily restricted telephone and visitation access, CMU prisoners are categorically denied any physical contact with family members and are forbidden from hugging, touching or embracing their children or spouses during visits. Attorneys say this blanket ban on contact visitation, which is unique in the federal prison system, not only causes suffering to the families of the incarcerated men, but is a violation of fundamental constitutional rights.

Said the 14-year-old daughter of one of the prisoners in the lawsuit, “The thing that hurts the most is that I can hear him but I can never touch him. I haven’t hugged, kissed or held my dad since December of 2007.”

Between 65 and 72 percent of CMU prisoners are Muslim men, a fact that attorneys say demonstrates that the CMUs were created to allow for the segregation and restrictive treatment of Muslims based on the discriminatory belief that such prisoners are more likely than others to pose a threat to prison security.

Others prisoners appear to be transferred to the CMU because of other protected First Amendment activity, such as speaking out on social justice issues or filing grievances in prison or court regarding conditions and abuse.

For more information on Aref v. Holder, visit CCR’s legal case page.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

See also the article on SolitaryWatch about this lawsuit.