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Muslim Prisoner Calls 60-Day Punishment For Interview On Prison Strike ‘Excessive’

The rules and infractions board at the Ohio State Penitentiary punished Imam Siddique Abdullah Hasan with 60 days of phone and email restrictions after he did an interview with NPR. His punishment started on October 5, and it is partly stunning because one of his attorneys was initially informed he would only be punished for one week.

In a handwritten letter dated October 6, Hasan called the restrictions “excessive” and noted they will last until December 5.

Hasan is a prisoner and spiritual leader on death row for a conviction related to the 1993 riot known as the Lucasville Uprising. Hasan has maintained his innocence and resisted the conditions of his confinement for three decades.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation And Correction’s media policy generally prohibits phone interviews with prisoners and places strict regulations on media contact. But this policy has not been enforced against Hasan for much of the past decade. He has participated in numerous news stories and documentaries about the 1993 Lucasville Uprising.

Hasan said he never saw the facility’s media rules until officials filed a conduct report against him. He has always understood that in-person interviews would be denied, and he and other prisoners have been a part of a lawsuit against the prison for this practice. But as he previously told Shadowproof, prison staff candidly discussed his phone interviews with him in the past after seeing them in the news or online. In fact, in some cases, he said they helped arrange phone interviews.

In the letter, Hasan wrote he is “not permitted to do either ‘live broadcasts’ or talk with the media over the phone. Their ruling [is] diametrically opposed to my First Amendment right and a US Supreme Court ruling.” He called it important to oppose the board’s “erroneous” ruling.

The prison investigator who wrote the conduct report against him “claims nobody influenced him to change his mind,” Hasan wrote, referring to the way the investigator first told Hasan he was only receiving a warning. “He claimed he had not listened to the entire recording when he had talked to me in the visiting room. Since he had discussed various aspects of what I said, I do not believe him when he claims he had not listened to the entire interview prior to telling me there would be no write up.”

Hasan believes prison officials displayed no interest in curbing his communication with reporters until he spoke out in support of the September 9 strike.

At the end of August, prison officials alleged, and Hasan vigorously denied, that he asked a staff imam to wear a suicide vest into the prison. Such a serious claim could have led to a new prosecution against him. However, prison officials opted to punish him by restricting his phone and email use when the strike started.

Hasan has a special security status, known as 5A “long-timer.” It was created in 2011 by Warden David Bobby after Hasan and two other members of the Lucasville 5 went on hunger strike for 13 days to protest their assignment to maximum security status for nearly 20 years. Hasan and his supporters, organized as the Free Ohio Movement, contend they were left on 5A because prison officials didn’t want them to speak to the media after the uprising.

Over the years, Free Ohio fought to expand his “long-timer” status so the prisoners could have full contact visits and limited congregate recreation time.

The Lucasville 5, along with journalists like James Ridgeway and Chris Hedges, and others, are plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in 2013 challenging Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction’s consistent policy of denying media requests for full access to prisoners. Their attorneys say the policy of universally denying media access to the prisoners represents an unconstitutional content discrimination in violation of the First Amendment. ODRC officials have admitted to the practice in response to the lawsuit.

Funeral hall in Sana'a after Saudi coalition airstrikes. October, 2016(via Hisham Al-Omeisy)
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Brian Sonenstein

Brian Sonenstein

Publishing Editor at Shadowproof and columnist at Prison Protest.