A group of UN human rights experts expressed serious concerns on Tuesday over the treatment and wellbeing of an African American prisoner who has been reportedly shackled to his hospital bed, and denied visits from his family, or access to lawyers.
Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has been incarcerated for 40 years in the United States, had also been shackled to his bed during a previous four-day hospitalization in late February, while being treated for heart failure.
The political activist and journalist, was convicted of killing police officer Daniel Faulkner, in Philadelphia, in 1981. He denies the charges.
Since being admitted for surgery around 10 April, he has been denied family visits and access to both his lawyers and spiritual advisor.
“The use of shackles during his hospital stays is deplorable, and causes Mr. Abu-Jamal additional and unnecessary suffering”, the experts said in a statement.
Citing international standards on the treatment of prisoners, they added that “instruments of restraint are to be imposed only when no lesser form of control would be effective to address the risks posed by unrestricted movement.”
Ill health, ill treatment
In addition to chronic heart condition, Mr. Abu-Jamal suffers cirrhosis of the liver caused by Hepatitis C, hypertension and a severe skin condition.
And in late February, he was also diagnosed with COVID-19.
“We are concerned that the medical condition of Mr. Abu-Jamal could be linked to years of medical neglect by the Department of Corrections of the state of Pennsylvania”, the experts said.
Moreover, they noted that this situation may also be “the result of racial discrimination” against people of African descent by prison and State authorities.
Against this backdrop, the experts called on the authorities to “take all urgent measures to protect the physical integrity, life and dignity of Mr. Abu-Jamal”, in line with international human rights obligations.
They said that communication and access for Mr. Abu-Jamal's family and advisors should “immediately be restored”.
Additionally, the state of Pennsylvania must “immediately cease withholding information and access relevant to monitoring the status of Mr. Abu-Jamal’s human rights.”
They called on authorities to “urgently address allegations of discrimination, including racial discrimination, in the medical treatment of prisoners in Pennsylvania” and to take all necessary measures to “protect the physical integrity and life of all detainees”, particularly older prisoners and those with disabilities who seem to have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
The experts have written to the Government to express their concerns.
The independent experts were appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on specific thematic issues. The are not UN staff nor are they paid by the Organization.
Click here for the names of the nine UN experts who endorsed this statement.