It took less than three weeks for the bill to be introduced, overwhelmingly adopted and signed by the governor — a contemptuous bipartisan blow against political rights for working people and the Bill of Rights.
The gag law — which hasn’t received much publicity — means any prisoner or former prisoner convicted of a violent crime, even someone whose conviction has been overturned, can be sued by any “victim,” or their family members, or by a government official for any statement they claim causes “a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish.” Whether you are asserting your innocence, protesting prison conditions or commenting on world politics, you are muzzled.
The lawsuit filed by Prison Legal News and others challenging the unconstitutional restriction of the rights of the press also deserves broad support.
The pretext for the law was a recorded commencement speech to Goddard College by Mumia Abu-Jamal, a journalist framed up and put on death row on charges of killing cop Daniel Faulkner. The fight to stop his execution — finally successful in 2011 — was part of the struggle to abolish the death penalty.
As incarceration rates soared across the country, struggles by prisoners and their family members against solitary confinement, false convictions, abusive treatment and dehumanizing conditions in prison grew. The number of exonerations of victims of cop frame-ups is more than 1,500 over the past 15 years. Restrictions like the Pennsylvania law could shut these former prisoners up.
These fights get an increasing hearing from and overlap with struggles by workers against the effects of the world capitalist crisis, for higher wages, safer working conditions and to build and defend unions.
If allowed to stand, Pennsylvania’s Silencing Act would give the rulers a precedent for further assaults on political space for workers to discuss and act. And to target papers like Prison Legal News and the Militant that champion them.
Lawsuits challenge new Penn. law silencing prisoners, press
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