Open letter from the National Writers


Dear National Writers Union member,

Our colleague and union member, the award-winning Black journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, has urgent need of the help of every NWU member.

Abu-Jamal, an outspoken journalistic critic of police brutality and racism in Philadelphia and advocate for the poor, was convicted of having shot and killed a police officer in 1981.

His lawyers and supporters cite a litany of acts of police, prosecutorial, and judicial bias and misconduct in the trial that clearly violated his Constitutional rights. Yet Abu-Jamal has been consistently denied the opportunity to present exonerating evidence in the Pennsylvania courts.

"There must be a new trial," said NWU Advisory Board member Gloria Steinem. "If not,this case will join those that undermine public faith in the justice system, and live on in history as a divisive force."

What makes Abu-Jamal's case particularly compelling for writers is that his writings are at the heart of efforts to execute him. His writings were used in arguing for the death penalty at his trial, and since Abu-Jamal's incarceration, every effort has been made to censor his work.

As Abu-Jamal himself has said, "They don't just want my death, they want my silence."

You can read about the case on the NWU web site, at

Though a death warrant has been signed, Abu-Jamal currently has a stay of execution. But unless Federal District Court Judge William H. Yohn grants him a new trial, or at least an evidentiary hearing, he will be put to death very soon.

We must not let Abu-Jamal be censored by execution. The NWU has officially called for a new trial. But public pressure is our only hope for justice.

I therefore urge every NWU member to write individually to Judge William H. Yohn, Jr., imploring him to grant Abu-Jamal a new trial and an evidentiary hearing.

Abu-Jamal's lawyers are calling for 100,000 such letters.

PLEASE WRITE to: Judge William H. Yohn, Jr., c/o Leonard Weinglass, Esq., 6 West 20th Street, Ste. 10A, New York, New York 10011. (Weinglass is Abu-Jamal's lead attorney.) Also, please send a copy to Al Weinrub, NWU Local 3, 337 17th St., Oakland, CA 94612 or email him at Thank you, Jonathan Tasini, President, National Writers Union

PS: See two addenda, below

ADDENDUM #1: information to help you formulate your letter.
On Friday, October 15, 1999, Abu-Jamal's attorneys filed a writ of habeas corpus. In over 160 pages they cite 29 violations of Abu-Jamal's Constitutional rights, including:

  • Use by the State of all of its 11 peremptory challenges to strike Black people from the jury
  • Prohibition of Abu-Jamal from representing himself
  • Failure to provide effective defense counsel in Abu-Jamal's trial
  • Prohibition of Abu-Jamal from being present in the courtroom at his own trial
  • Suppression of evidence by police and prosecutors
  • Coercion of witnesses
  • Fabrication of a confession story
  • Suppression of documents about police surveillance of Abu-Jamal
  • Use of Abu-Jamal's youthful writings and involvement with the Black Panther Party to argue that he should be punished with death.

The habeas corpus petition to the Federal Court requests an evidentiary hearing so that Abu-Jamal may finally bring in the witnesses and evidence that he has heretofore been denied in the Pennsylvania courts. Obtaining this hearing is crucial. If Abu-Jamal is denied this hearing, all future appeals will be based solely on the tainted "evidence" and decisions of the original judge, and Abu-Jamal will undoubtedly be executed. Act now to save his life! The NWU web site contains additional background information and statements by prominent writers.

ADDENDUM #2: January 10
NWU Statement on the occasion of an international delegation to U.S. Justice Department to ask its intervention in Abu-Jamal case:

As President of the National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981, I want to make it known that we vigorously support the efforts of award-winning Black journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal to obtain a new trial.

The case of this dedicated and outspoken journalistic critic of police brutality and racism and advocate for poor and working people has attracted support from all over the world.

In voicing our support for a new trial for Abu-Jamal, we join the European Parliament, Amnesty International, Nelson Mandela, Jacques Chirac, Mme Danielle Mitterand, the Congressional Black Caucus, the National Lawyers Guild, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), and many other labor and civic organizations.

We also join hundreds of writers in this country who oppose efforts to silence Abu-Jamal's dissenting voice. We deplore the police, prosecutorial, and judicial bias that has repeatedly resulted in violations of Abu-Jamal's most basic Constitutional rights, and request that Federal District Court Judge William H. Yohn grant Abu-Jamal a new trial, or at least the opportunity to present evidence of judicial and prosecutorial misconduct in his 1981 trial.

As writers, we are appalled not only at the gross injustice which has been done to our respected colleague, but at the threat which this case of "censorship by execution" represents to the freedom of speech of every American writer, and to justice and democracy in America.

Further information on Abu-Jamal's case and the National Writers Union position can be found on the NWU web site:

National Writers Union UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO
Email Website
National Office West 337 - 17th Street, Suite 101
Oakland, CA 94612-3351 Phone (510) 839-0110 Fax (510) 839-6097 National Office East 113 University Place, 6th Floor New York, NY 10003-4527 Phone (212) 254-0279 Fax (212) 254-0673

International Concerned Family & Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal P.O. Box 19709 - Philadelphia, PA 19143 Ph: 215-476-8812 / Fax: 215-476-7551 Web: / E-mail:



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