Civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart is claiming victory today in a case that could have landed her in jail for the rest of her life. On Monday, Stewart was sentenced to twenty-eight months in prison. She’ll remain free on bail while her conviction is appealed. [includes rush transcript]
Stewart was facing up to thirty years after being found guilty of conspiring to aid terrorists and lying to the government. She was convicted of distributing press releases on behalf of her jailed client–Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman–also known as the blind sheikh–who is serving a life sentence on terror-related charges. Stewart was found to have helped Rahman communicate followers in Egypt with messages that could have ended a cease-fire there and ignited violence.
U.S. District Judge John Koeltl ruled Stewart is guilty of: “extraordinarily severe criminal conduct.” But he rejected prosecutors’ argument she presents a threat to national security, and said there is no evidence anyone has been harmed by her actions. Judge Koeltl also rejected prosecutors’ request for the maximum jail term, citing Stewart’s years of representing the poor and underprivileged. Judge Koeltl wrote: “It is no exaggeration to say that Ms. Stewart performed a public service not only to the court but to the nation.”
Stewart’s two co-defendants were also sentenced. Ahmed Sattar, a postal worker who acted as a paralegal for Abdel-Rahman, was given 24 years in prison for conspiring to kill people outside the US. Mohammed Yousry, an Arabic translator, was given twenty months for aiding the smuggling of Abdel-Rahman’s messages.
Shortly after her sentencing, Lynne Stewart stepped outside the courtroom to a crowd of cheering supporters.
- Lynne Stewart
Civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart. She’s free now pending an appeal of her conviction. Also speaking outside the courtroom was Lynne Stewart’s husband, Ralph Poynter.
- Ralph Poynter
AMY GOODMAN: Shortly after her sentencing, Lynne Stewart stepped outside the courtroom to a crowd of cheering supporters.
LYNNE STEWART: This is a moment that I share with every supporter that came, that called, that sent me a card, that stopped me in the street. It’s the cab drivers who gave me the thumbs up this morning. It’s everybody who had some role to play in this. I am very grateful to the judge that he gave me time off for good behavior, and he gave it to me in advance of the sentence, when he said that my extraordinary work meant that I could not get a sentence that the government wanted. They were disappointed, but I tell you, he did a fair and right thing, and I am grateful to him, but I am more grateful to the people — the people who showed up today, the people who have showed up, the people who had the meetings, the people who had dinners in their apartments, the people who raised funds, whatever it was. The support and love of the people is what has sustained me.
I am standing here with three of my 14 grandchildren. My lawyers pointed out to the judge that under new regulations, the government could have forbade me to ever see them again. This is how we have become in this country. And I hope the government realizes their error, because I am back out and I am staying out until after an appeal that I hope will vindicate me, that I hope will make me back into the lawyer I was.
Any regrets? I don’t think anybody would say that going to jail for two years is something you look forward to, but as my clients have said to me, I can do that standing on my head. No, the circle continues. We are going to go on. We have more struggle there. This is a time that cries out for renewed resistance to a government that is not only overreaching in a case like mine — I am the point person — but to a government that overreaches into all our lives.
I see the people before me today. We are not torturers. They are torturers, and we have to stop the torture. I do hope that we will be vindicated on appeal. We are surely going to take a militant and timely appeal and that there are plenty of issues, and we hope that that will be the result.
But I tell you, it is such a feeling of relief. I had my medications, my book. I had a pair of sweatpants to change into, because I was prepared for the worst. But like all Irish people, you prepare for the worst, something good happens. And something good did happen.
AMY GOODMAN: Civil rights attorney, Lynne Stewart. She is free now, pending an appeal of her conviction. Also speaking outside the courtroom was Lynne Stewart’s husband, Ralph Poynter.
RALPH POYNTER: I can only reiterate what people have already said. This is a victory of all of the committees, all of the people who supported this struggle. But we happened to be the focus, and I dare say that we are the happiest, for tonight we may even sleep. Thank you again.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Poynter, the husband of Lynne Stewart, standing outside the courtroom. Lynne Stewart was tried in the courtroom where the Rosenbergs were tried more than a half a century ago.