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Ohio Muslim Prisoner Threatened With Punishment For NPR Interview On Prison Strike

Ohio prisoner Imam Siddique Abdullah Hasan says he was recently threatened with disciplinary action by an investigator at the Ohio State Penitentiary for speaking on the National Public Radio program, “On Point,” about the September 9 national prison strike.

Hasan, who is a Muslim spiritual leader on death row for his alleged role in the 1993 Lucasville Uprising, said he was informed he would be written up for unauthorized use of the phone and could have his phone and email privileges restricted, despite an understanding with prison officials that he could use his phone and email time to communicate with media as he has done for the past decade.

On Monday, Hasan told Shadowproof he was not sure when the disciplinary actions would come down, but he and his supporters expect it to be imminent. If it happens, it will be the second time he’s faced retaliation for supporting the strike in as many months.

“I’m getting kind of mentally exhausted. How am I going to deal with this nonsense?” Hasan said. “I’m not going to throw in the towel. I just remain in the trenches.”

“If [prison officials] do come through on their threats, and I’m sure perhaps they will—to what extent I don’t know, it remains to be seen—I’m not going to passively sit and accept it,” Hasan added.

“As far as violence or anything like that, no, we don’t see any benefit in anything like that,” he said. “I just want to make that clear.”

Hasan suggested he might go on hunger strike and urged supporters to organize a protest outside the prison if that happens.

His ability to participate in the strikes on death row is rather limited. He and other similarly situated prisoners are not permitted to work, and therefore cannot refuse their labor. Instead, he has decided to show solidarity with those who can strike by using his media profile to raise consciousness about the action and the issues motivating it.

“I [have] been speaking for ten years on radio programs,” Hasan said. “In fact, I’ve spoken on many radio programs—another NPR radio program with Karen Kessler. I spoke on all kind of programs, college campuses, you name it, somebody call on me and I’d talk, and not just on prison issues—Black Lives Matter, the economic situation, the fifteen dollar minimum wage. And the prison authorities have known that. They’ve heard me speak on these issues.”

“When I went on hunger strike last March, I spoke,” Hasan recalled. “It was recorded and all these officers came up to me and said, ‘We heard you on the radio,’ and this, that, and the other. It’s all on the internet. So this is not nothing new. The prison officials know I have been doing this. I don’t know why all of a sudden it became a big issue.”

In a letter published on the website for Lucasville Amnesty, a group which supports Hasan, Greg Curry, and other prisoners wrongfully convicted in connection to the Lucasville Uprising, Hasan explained how he came to learn of the impending disciplinary action against him.

“While on a visit yesterday with a friend and staunch supporter of mine, the Ohio State Penitentiary investigator, Mr. Wylie, came to my table and wanted to speak with me,” he wrote. “My visitor excused herself and Mr. Wylie sat in her seat and then began to explain the nature of his urgent visit with me.” Hasan said Mr. Wylie wanted to discuss the interview he has just done with NPR.

“While I am not going to write you up, I wanted to give you a warning that you are not allowed to do radio interviews with the media,” Mr. Wylie allegedly told Hasan.

Hasan explained, “That was not correct and that the understanding I, as well as my attorneys and the media, had was that neither [Ohio State Penitentiary] nor its superiors at Central Office [Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction] would allow members of the media to conduct on-camera interviews with me or be allowed to bring in any recording devices.”

In fact, the issue is the subject of a 1st Amendment lawsuit brought by Hasan, other prisoners implicated in the Lucasville Uprising, and journalists denied the opportunity to conduct interviews.

Hasan argued he could use his phone and email time to correspond with the media, adding prison officials even facilitated such correspondence.

“Now, due to prisoners and their supporters challenging and speaking out against prison slavery, mass incarceration, and the super economic exploitation of prisoners, their families, friends, and loved ones, OSP wants to threaten me with additional sanctions,” he declared.

Hasan said the investigator warned him not to tell the press he was “an organizer and member of the Free Ohio Movement,” one of many groups supporting prisoners in Ohio, as he had on the program.

Mr. Wylie left Hasan and Hasan resumed his visit. When he was finished, he was strip searched in a cage before being taken back to his cell. But when he was about to leave the cage, the officers escorting him were directed to lock him back up because the investigator wanted to speak with him again.

This time Mr. Wylie told him he “had his orders, that the matter was much bigger than he was initially told, that he has to listen to more of my phone conversations, and that, for starters, he would be writing me a conduct report for unauthorized use of the phone.”

Mr. Wylie said he “wanted to be the first one to inform me of these new developments, especially since he had initially told me there would be no write up. (I want to mention that Mr. Wylie was very polite and respectful on both occasions. It appears that he was getting his orders from a higher authority.)”

In August, before the strike began, Hasan was thrown in the hole and had his email and phone use restricted for thirty days. Prison officials claimed he asked an imam to wear an explosive vest into the prison—a claim for which there is substantial doubt, and one which Hasan vigorously denies.

He has filed a lawsuit against the prison over the incident.

“Don’t worry about me. Whatever they’re gonna do to me, I can withstand it,” Hasan told Shadowproof. “This is not the first time I’ve been dealt with harshly by prison authorities, so whatever they do, I can withstand it.”

A recording interrupted him to say there was only one minute left and that the conversation may be monitored. When it finished, Hasan said, “Don’t worry about you saying anything, writing anything, going on any programs, and talking about my case.

“I think for us to sit back and be quiet and allow them to do what they plan on doing, that hurts me more than anything y’all can actually say.”

Brian Nam-Sonenstein

Brian Nam-Sonenstein

Publishing Editor at Shadowproof and columnist at Prison Protest.