Is a Prison Strike Leader Being Falsely Accused of Inciting Terrorism?

Siddique Abdullah Hasan is a key organizer for an upcoming labor strike in prisons across the country.

Photo Credit: pixabay

Activist and advocates are concerned that a politically active Muslim prisoner, Siddique Abdullah Hasan, has been falsely accused of inciting terrorism at Ohio State Penitentiary, where he is incarcerated. About half a dozen Muslim prisoners at the facility are on hunger strike, demanding that the disciplinary charges be dropped and Hasan cleared of all wrongdoing, according to activists working outside the prison.

Hasan is a key organizer for the upcoming September 9 labor strike and work stoppage, which is poised to take place in prisons across the country. Outside activists told AlterNet they suspect the allegations were intended to delegitimize the events of September 9 and sow fear about people organizing from the inside

“When you start to get actions in favor of the confined citizen, it might empower more confined citizens to speak up,” explained Tahiyrah Ali, a spokesperson with the Free Ohio Movement, one of the groups organizing around the upcoming work stoppage.

AlterNet spoke to Ali as well as Hasan’s attorney, Rick Kerger, who have both heard directly from Hasan about the allegations he faces. The details they provided could not be independently corroborated. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the alleged disciplinary violations or the concerns voiced by outside activists.

The trouble started on August 1, when a contract imam at the facility reported to OSP staff that Hasan had recently tried to convince him to wear a suicide vest into the facility.  Kerger, who has represented Hasan for 20 years, was incredulous that anyone would have put forward such a plan, least of all his client. “There’s no way on Earth you could have accomplished what he [allegedly] wanted,” said Kerger. “You have to take pens out of your pocket [to enter the prison]!”

Hasan was placed in solitary confinement and found guilty of violating Rule 59 of the Inmate Rules of Conduct, by engaging in conduct that posed a threat to the security of the institution. “These Ohio administrative rules do not leave room for any confined citizen to ever be found innocent,” Ali said.

After about one week in segregation Hassan was returned to his cell on death row, but has apparently been barred by the disciplinary board from accessing the phone or email kiosk for 30 days. That’s suspicious timing, according to supporters on the outside, since it means Hasan will be largely unable to continue organizing in the run-up to September 9. “Did the state become involved in trying to reduce [Hasan’s] effectiveness by 'excommunicating' him, if you will?” wondered Kerger.

Ali recalled that there had been longstanding tensions between Hasan and the contract imam, who was identified as “S. Ishmael” in Free Ohio Movement press releases. She stressed that he had not been seen as a trusted religious leader, and that some prisoners suspected he was there to gather information on Muslims on the inside. The prisoners on hunger strike at OSP have also demanded that Ishmael be replaced by a new imam.

It is unclear why Hasan was not given a more severe punishment, or charged with new criminal offenses, if prison officials genuinely believed he had incited terrorism from the inside.

Hasan told Ali and Kerger that on Tuesday, August 2, an Officer Mike Royko of the Ohio State Highway Patrol visited Hasan to ask him about the plans for September 9. Royko allegedly described the 9th as a plot to blow up buildings and harm people.

Dan Berger, an assistant professor at the University of Washington-Bothell and the author of the 2015 book, Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era, told AlterNet that African-American Muslims have been seen as potential threats to prison staff since well before 9/11. “In the 1960s, Islam was a kind of placeholder for the larger threat that was promised by black prisoner challenges to racism,” he explained, although that shifted as the popularity of the nation declined and other forces, like the Black Panthers, gained prominence on the inside.

“Even though [contemporary debates on radicalization] have been shaped by post 9/11, war on terror policies” he said, “much of the discourse and framing is actually very familiar, if you look at the response of prison officials in the '50s and '60s.”

Siddique Abdullah Hasan was one of five men sentenced to death for leading the 1993 Lucasville prison uprising, which was sparked in part by Muslim concerns about religious freedom on the inside. Over the course of 11 days, nine prisoners and one guard were killed.

Aviva Stahl is a Brooklyn-based journalist who writes about prisons, national security, and immigration detention.
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