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Court decision ordering new sentencing for Mumia Abu-Jamal a "small victory", says RSF

(RSF/IFEX) - 27 April 2011 - On 26 April, a federal appeals court in Philadelphia ordered a new sentencing hearing for Afro-American journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has been facing a death sentence since 1982 for the fatal shooting of a policeman. The court gave the state of Pennsylvania six months to select a jury and hold the hearing, or otherwise agree to a life sentence.

The ruling increases hopes that the almost 30 years that Mumia Abu-Jamal has spent on death row may soon come to an end. However, the jury will only be asked to decide whether he was given the right sentence, not whether he was rightfully convicted for policeman Daniel Faulkner's murder on 9 December 1981 in Philadelphia.

"We receive this latest decision by the Philadelphia federal appeals court with a mixture of satisfaction and caution," Reporters Without Borders said. "Satisfaction because his death sentence is in practice now suspended pending the jury's verdict. Caution because the jury could confirm the death sentence or commute it to life imprisonment, and because district attorney Seth Williams has said he will appeal against this decision to the Supreme Court, which in the past has always rejected the arguments of Abu-Jamal's lawyers."

Reporters Without Borders added: "Abu-Jamal's cause will continue to need active support even if the new jury overturns the death sentence. There will be no grounds for real satisfaction until the 30-year-old guilty verdict, the outcome of a trial marred by irregularities and racism, has been overturned."

We, Reporters Without Borders, are of the opinion that:

- Mumia-Abu-Jamal has not been given a fair trial and should therefore be retried with every guarantee of impartiality
- Mumia Abu-Jamal's death sentence only further exacerbates public indignation against an unfair trial, inasmuch as the element of doubt should benefit any accused person under any Rule of Law.
- The fact that Mumia Abu-Jamal is a militant journalist was a factor that weighed in favor of his death sentence in 1982, a decision that flies in the face of every principle of freedom of conscience and freedom of expression upheld by the United States Constitution.
- The law adopted by the State of Pennsylvania in 1996 - also called the "Mumia Law" - prohibiting any photographs, sound recordings or films to be made of a prisoner sentenced to death violates the principle of the free circulation of information ratified by the U.S. Constitution and federal law.
- The death penalty is incompatible with the Rule of Law and should be abolished in the United States and in every other country in which it is still applied or maintained in principle.

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