Mumia Abu-Jamal’s life in jeopardy — demand his release now!

By Betsey Piette
April 23, 2021

Led by Pam Africa (left) demonstrators take to the streets to demand immediate release for Mumia Abu-Jamal, Philadelphia, March 12. Credit: Joe Piette


Family and supporters of Pennsylvania political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal became alarmed when they did not get his routine daily calls after April 10. On April 14 officials at SCI Mahanoy finally responded to inquiries from Abu-Jamal’s medical attorneys and admitted that, after complaining of chest pains, he had been taken to a hospital and was scheduled to have surgery.

The prison’s cruel and inhumane attitude toward Abu-Jamal and his loved ones could not be more evident. First the renowned Black journalist was kept incommunicado for four days. Then, the minimal information officials provided intentionally left out the name of the hospital, the nature of the alleged surgery and why he had not been allowed to call family, attorneys or medical and spiritual advisors.

This marked the second time in just over a month that Abu-Jamal became ill and was taken from the prison to a hospital, and his support network was again kept in the dark. It mirrors the state’s practice when MOVE 9 members Merle, Phil and Delbert Africa became ill in prison, but were denied family contact.

At the end of February, Abu-Jamal told family he was experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, including chest pains. The prison claimed three administered COVID tests were negative. In early March he was taken to a hospital in Allentown, Pa., where he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and tested positive for COVID-19.

During that hospitalization, Abu-Jamal was cruelly shackled to his bed and denied family contact, until a movement outcry forced them to allow him to call supporter Johanna Fernandez. There is significant evidence, both legal and medical, that he has suffered severe harm from medical, legal, law enforcement and judicial professionals who have not met proper standards.

Even prior to the diagnosis of congestive heart disease, Abu-Jamal suffered from hypertension, liver cirrhosis and diabetes — induced by court-documented medical neglect — and the worsening of a severe, debilitating chronic skin condition.

Virtual press conference

In response to the state’s latest attempt to murder and silence Abu-Jamal, a virtual press conference was organized by his international support movement April 15.  The key demands raised were that Abu-Jamal be allowed immediate contact with his spouse Wadiya Jamal, his principal spokesperson Pam Africa, his personal physician Dr. Ricardo Alvarez and his spiritual advisor Dr. Mark Taylor; that he not be shackled over the course of his treatment so as not to aggravate his skin condition; and that as an innocent man, Abu-Jamal should be freed based on compassionate medical release. According to Dr. Alvarez, “release is his only real treatment option.”

Speakers at the press conference included Pam Africa, Wadiya Jamal, Mumia’s grandson Jamal Hart Jr., professor and lifetime activist Angela Davis, journalist and professor Marc Lamont Hill, professor Johanna Fernandez, attorney Bob Boyle, Dr. Alvarez, Erica Caines from Black Alliance for Peace, Dr. Taylor and Philadelphia Black Lives Matter activist Gabriel Bryant, who reported on the upcoming Freedom Weekend April 23-25.

Speakers stressed that it is Abu-Jamal’s basic human right to seek counsel from loved ones, supporters and advisors, especially before going into heart surgery. To deny this contact can only add unnecessary stress that could negatively impact the outcome.

Opening the event Hill stated: “Mumia is both factually innocent and legally not guilty. At this stage in his life, after spending decades in prison, the only relief is his freedom.”

Wadiya Jamal gave a passionate appeal for justice for her spouse, expressing her anguish when he was not allowed to communicate with her for days. She reminded people that “as an investigative journalist, he was the people’s truth teller. We needed him to tell the truth. Now it is our turn to help him.” Due to international pressure on state and prison officials, she was finally able to talk with Mumia earlier in the day.

Longtime freedom fighter Angela Davis stated: “I have deep revolutionary love for Mumia, and we stand with him as he grapples with the power of the state. His predicament mirrors that of so many other people behind bars. When we win a victory for Mumia, it is a victory for all prisoners — men, women, cis and trans.”

Echoes of slavery

Dr. Johanna Fernandez with the Campaign to Bring Mumia Home said: “Prison is about control and the severing of prisoners from families and loved ones. But as soon as you start ringing the alarm, shining light on it and exposing the terror in prisons, the bully starts backing down.

“Mumia was sequestered and disappeared. Does that sound familiar? Echoes of slavery — separation from community. Prison officials would not even give straight answers to his attorneys, who have challenged this prison over medical issues in the past. He was barred from reaching out to his loved ones in the run-up to surgery. Think about the barbarity of a system that feels there are no rights of a prisoner that the state must respect. To deny this, the state is establishing conditions for failure of the surgery. We charge the state with genocide by medical neglect.”

Dr. Fernandez concluded: “Mumia is shackled to a hospital bed right now. Loud and clear are the echoes of chattel slavery in the Americas, that developed handcuffs, shackles and fetters to control the enslaved population. This practice is now common in prisons throughout the U.S. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections administrator John Wetzel publicly denounced white supremacy, but his prisons are practicing a system of racist barbarity.”

Dr. Ricardo Alvarez, Abu-Jamal’s medical advisor emphasized: “It is a basic right that a patient be allowed to seek counsel from loved ones, supporters, spiritual advisors and chosen medical counsel. There was no call to family, and his medical lawyer has suggested that his location was kept intentionally secret. Mumia has a deeply well-founded distrust of institutions, including medical institutions, and the behavior of the PA DOC perpetuates his trauma.

“Before this week’s health emergency, Mumia Abu-Jamal was already suffering from COVID-19, congestive heart failure, hypertension, diabetes, liver cirrhosis and a worsening of a severe and debilitating chronic skin condition. Treatment can only go so far in the setting of a prison. We support Mumia from the only possible treatment, which is freedom.”

Later in the day Dr. Alvarez was interviewed by TeleSUR English about Abu-Jamal’s condition. (

As of now, Abu-Jamal’s surgery is scheduled for April 19.

The virtual press event was attended by hundreds of people from around the world, including participants in Austria, Greece, Martinique, S. Africa, Canada and the U.S.