The death warrant for the December 2nd execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal signed yesterday by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge serves no purpose other than putting Abu-Jamal on 'death watch' and causing him cruel and unnecessary suffering. Governor Ridge was well aware that Abu-Jamal has yet to file the federal appeals available to him -- an action that could postpone his execution for a considerable period. Governor Ridge should not play politics with a man's life.
Placement on 'death watch' amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment during the completion of the criminal justice process. Prisoners are handcuffed, their bodies belted, their feet shackled. They are placed in cells surrounded by plexiglass walls so that sound can't penetrate. A camera watches them 24 hours a day. A death row inmate who once was on 'death watch' told Amnesty International Secretary General Pierre Sane on his visit to a Pennsylvania prison, 'After surviving a death warrant, I felt like I'd lost my soul. It kills part of you.'
Governor Ridge has signed 176 death warrants since becoming governor in 1995 ¾ a total five times the number signed by two previous governors over a 25-year period. The courts cancelled all but three of the warrants signed by Governor Ridge; those prisoners had given up their appeals and consented to their execution.
Amnesty International calls on Governor Ridge to immediately rescind the death warrant for Abu-Jamal and to cease issuing further death warrants while inmates have appeals pending. We hope that the appellate court, once it receives the appeal, will order an immediate and thorough review of the fairness of Abu-Jamal's trial and sentencing hearing.
Amnesty International unconditionally opposes the death penalty, which is applied disproportionately on the basis of race, ethnicity and social status. For example, of the 176 death warrants Governor Ridge has signed, 106 were against African Americans.
The criminal justice system must be guided by principles of fairness and humanitarian values. State executions violate the most fundamental of all human rights. The death penalty must be abolished; fairness and due process must be guaranteed.
Further reading on Mumia Abu-Jamal:
Sam Jordan is the Director of the Program to Abolish the Death Penalty at Amnesty International, USA.