“Journalists have not only a right but an obligation to report on matters of public concern and political significance,” begins an Oct. 9 statement from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “Recent articles by the Militant and other news outlets about a hunger strike and conditions in California prisons exemplify this duty.”
On Oct. 2 the Florida Department of Corrections informed Benjamin Stevenson, the Florida American Civil Liberties Union attorney representing the Militant, that the department’s Literature Review Committee rejected the paper’s appeal and upheld the Santa Rosa Correctional Institution’s impoundment of the July 22 issue of the paper. They said the Militant would receive a final written decision from the Santa Rosa CI.
The Militant has 86 subscribers behind bars, including 35 in Florida and 15 in California. The decision affects all institutions of the Florida State prison system.
The issue was impounded by prison authorities Sept. 4, because of a front page article — “Calif. Prisoners Launch Hunger Strike Against Solitary Confinement, Abuses” — they claimed “encourages hunger strikes.”
“The article is written for a general audience,” the socialist newsweekly’s appeal said, “and nowhere does the writer ‘encourage’ anyone to do anything.”
The hunger strikes were widely covered in the press across the country, including in Florida. There have been no reports of any other papers being politically censored by prison officials, in Santa Rosa or anywhere else, because of their news coverage of the sizable prison protests.
The fact that the Militant, whose masthead describes it as “a socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people,” was singled out, the appeal says, is “explicable only by Santa Rosa CI’s hostility to the proclaimed or perceived political viewpoint of The Militant.”
Since the appeal was filed, the Militant has received letters from two other prisoners, one more in Florida and another in Washington state, reporting that they had been denied copies of the paper at the same time.
The Florida inmate, a long-time subscriber, told the paper he hasn’t received an issue in over six weeks. The Washington prisoner reported he was denied three issues, the one dated July 22 and the next two issues with follow-up articles, “Calif. Prisoners Protest Solitary, Harsh Conditions” and “Calif. Prisoners Keep Up Hunger Strike over Solitary Confinement.”
‘News from outside important’Defenders of the rights of workers behind bars as well as partisans of freedom of the press have started to speak out on behalf of the Militant’s fight to beat back prison censorship.
“News from the outside is important for prisoners, especially those in solitary,” Araceli Guizar in San Pablo, Calif., told the Militant. Guizar has a friend in solitary at Pelican Bay in California who participated in actions in support of the hunger strike. “After two or three weeks of the hunger strike, the guards told my friend there was almost no support for the strike outside the prison. But with newspapers coming from the outside, the prisoners have a better chance to learn the truth.
“The prisoners have a right to receive newspapers with different points of view,” Guizar said. “To get news in the Militant about the five Cubans and other struggles.”
“Readers in all incarceration statuses deserve equal access to the Militant’s unique in-depth, ground-level coverage of working people’s issues,” Ashley Chausuk, who lives in San Leandro, Calif., and also has joined protests in support of the California hunger strikers, told the paper. “By denying access to the Militant, the Florida prison authority is severing a vital resource to the incarcerated individual.”
“Just as the First Amendment protects journalists’ right to truthfully report on matters of public concern, it protects prisoners’ rights to receive that information,” the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press statement says, “so long as the material does not interfere with the safety and security. The article in question, a routine report about important events in a California prison, appeared to pose no such threat.”
“We intend to press this fight,” Militant editor Doug Nelson said in response to the report of the rejection by Correction Department authorities. “This is a fight for the rights of working people, both inside and outside prison walls. We think we can win broad support on those grounds and the need to protect freedom of the press.”
“The explosion in the numbers of workers locked up and locked down after being run through the plea-bargain frame-up factory over the last several decades is part of the propertied rulers’ broader offensive against the working class,” Nelson said. “It’s in this context that the number of Militant subscribers in prisons have been growing. These readers are important to us, as are the struggles of prisoners for dignity in face of a myriad of abuses designed to degrade, demoralize and divide working people. We will defend the ability of workers behind bars to follow, discuss and participate in politics.”