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RSF asks for new sentencing hearing in Mumia Abu-Jamal case

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is asking the Federal Appeals Court in Philadelphia to consider granting journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal a new sentencing hearing in the wake of a review by the Court on 9 November 2010, on instructions from the Supreme Court. The Court heard arguments on a legal technicality in the death sentence imposed on Mumia in 1982 for the murder of a police officer in Philadelphia.

"The step taken by the federal court was already encouraging. We now ask the judges to consider a new sentencing hearing and to respect the rule of law in the 'world's leading democracy'," the organization said. "The world is watching. We are still convinced that Mumia Abu-Jamal did not have a fair trial."

Abu-Jamal's lawyer Judith Ritter was pleased with the outcome of the hearing. "The law is very strongly on our side," Ritter said. Lydia Barashango, Abu-Jamal's sister, who also attended the hearing, told RSF, "I am not impressed. But it can make a big difference if they rule right. It can mean life for Mumia. I hope it does not come out that he will live in prison for life, but he will live."

Abu-Jamal, journalist, president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists and a onetime Black Panther activist, was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in Philadelphia on December 9, 1981. As a reporter, Abu-Jamal became known as "The Voice of the Voiceless". At the time of his conviction, he was working for WDAS, an African-American radio station.

In 2008, a federal appeals court ruled in Abu-Jamal's favor saying that the jury instructions given at his trial back in 1982 were flawed. The decision nullified Abu-Jamal's death sentence and granted him a new sentencing hearing.

However, the Supreme Court this year upheld a death sentence in an Ohio case with similar jury issues, and ordered the Philadelphia court to revisit Abu-Jamal's ruling. According to Ritter, who argued the case on 9 November, "the two cases are very different." She also told the panel of three judges regarding the death sentence: "I don't see how this case is related to my client."

RSF, an international press freedom organization, strongly supports the international petition submitted by defenders of Abu-Jamal, who has already spent half of his life on death row.

Click here to access the petition
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