Who We Are

The formation of the Global Prison Abolitionist Coalition was compelled by the need to connect the struggles of political and social prisoners around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic and the threat of imminent death faced by prisoners hastened this effort. Made up of organizations and individuals spanning five continents, this coalition actively draws connections between national and international struggles and between political prisoners and social prisoners, who are mostly working-class victims of poverty, racism, marginalization and neglect. Our position regarding prison abolition is informed by the need for an alternative to capitalism because capitalism is carceral and authoritarian whether in its neoliberal or statist forms.

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Standing With Black Lives Matter Protests: Opposing Police Brutality, Militarism, and All Forms of State Violence

Frieda Afary, Sara Abbas and Yasser Munif

The video of a white police officer pressing his knee on the throat of George Floyd, a Black man for eight minutes and killing him, demonstrates the reality of white supremacy and the legacy of slavery in the U.S.   George Floyd was lynched by police officers while some bystanders stood by and watched.  Others on the scene protested and a young woman filmed the murder. 

The truth is that the leading cause of death for young Black men in the U.S. is police killing. Not one week goes by without several unarmed Black individuals being killed by the police. This state-sanctioned violence against Black bodies is the vilest aspect of racial capitalism.   In fact, racist violence and brutality against people of African descent is not just an issue in the U.S.  but exists everywhere.  It is urgent for global activists to combat that in their own countries and communities.    

The Hong Kong movement must stand with Black Lives Matter

JS and Promise Li

Hongkongers must make a choice: stand with or against Black Lives Matter. It’s time to pick a side.

The US has erupted in protests after a white police officer in Minneapolis murdered George Floyd, a 47-year-old Black man. While Floyd’s death may have been the catalyst for this nationwide outrage, these protests point to a much older pattern of police officers murdering Black people across the country. But despite similarly being victims of police brutality, some Hongkongers have refused to stand with Black Lives Matter. […]

Toward a Global Prison Abolitionist Movement: Webinar

In this panel we will we offer an overview of the prison and refugee camp populations and situations in the U.S., Syria and Iran. We will address some key obstacles to the formation of a global prison abolitionist movement,  offer ways of overcoming them and present ideas about an alternative to the capitalist carceral and authoritarian system.  Please click on this link to view this panel.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given new urgency to the need to abolish prisons, refugee camps and the inhuman capitalist carceral system.  Prisoner and refugee populations are facing an imminent death sentence from the fast spread of the virus in the crowded and unsanitary conditions of prisons and camps.

During the past three weeks, there have been protests inside some detention centers and prisons in the U.S., Iran, Italy, Colombia and elsewhere.  Prison abolitionist and refugee and immigrant support groups around the world are calling for the release of  people from jails, prisons, and detention centers.  Although, the U.S. and several other counties have started to release limited portions of their prison populations, the numbers released are too few to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Effectively fighting the COVID-19 pandemic demands a global prison abolitionist movement based on opposition to all forms of exploitation and domination.

In this panel we will we offer an overview of the prison and refugee camp populations and situations in the U.S., Syria and Iran.   We will address some key obstacles to the formation of a global prison abolitionist movement,  offer ways of overcoming them and present ideas about an alternative to the capitalist carceral and authoritarian system.

Speakers:

Romarilyn Ralston:

Program Director of Project Rebound at California State University, Fullerton, a program that supports the higher education and successful reintegration of the formerly incarcerated. She served 23 years at the California Institution for Women (CIW) and is a long-time member and organizer with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP). Incarcerated at 24 and released at 47, Romarilyn has seen and survived the effects of extreme sentencing and medical neglect in prison. Since her release, Romarilyn was a Women’s Policy Institute Fellow, a volunteer with the Ferguson Commission, and an organizer with the Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People & Families Movement (FICPFM) voting rights campaign in Florida. Romarilyn is a prison abolitionist tirelessly advocating for the women she left behind in prison in California, many serving life without the possibility of parole.

Joseph Daher:

Author of Syria after the Uprisingsthe Political Economy of State Resilience (Pluto Press and Haymarket, 2019) and Hezbollah: The Political Economy of the Party of God (Pluto, 2016). He is an academic, social activist,  founder of the blog Syria Freedom Forever and a co-founder of the Alliance of Middle Eastern and North African Socialists.

Sina Zekavat:

Architect, anti-war activist and member of the Alliance of Middle Eastern and North African Socialist.  He has written articles on the student movement in Iran and solidarity with Syrian revolutionaries.

Moderator

Shiyam Galyon:

Communications coordinator at War Resisters League, the oldest secular antiwar organization working to resist war in the United States and abroad since 1923. She is also a member of the Syrian Women’s Political Movement, a multinational network of Syrian women fighting for political justice for all Syrians.

The moderated discussion will be followed by 30 minutes for  answering questions from the facebook audience.

What Is Holding Back the Formation of a Global Prison Abolitionist Movement to Fight COVID-19 and Capitalism?

Frieda Afary and Lara Al-Kateb
Originally published in Spectre

The COVID-19 pandemic has given new urgency to the need to abolish prisons, refugee camps and the inhuman capitalist carceral system.  Prisoner and refugee populations are facing an imminent death sentence from the fast spread of the virus in the crowded and unsanitary conditions of prisons and camps.

During the past week, there have been protests inside some detention centers and prisons in the US, Iran, Italy and elsewhere.  Prison abolitionist and refugee and immigrant support groups in the US are calling for “a thorough plan to release people from jails, prisons, and detention centers.” Although, the US and several other counties have started to release limited portions of their prison populations, it is way too small to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Effectively fighting the COVID-19 pandemic demands a global prison abolitionist movement based on opposition to all forms of exploitation and domination. In the first part of this article, we offer some an overview of the world’s prison and refugee camp populations. In the last part, we will discuss some key obstacles to the formation of a global prison abolitionist movement. We hope to spark discussion with prison abolitionists around the world, so that we can make a difference at this critical moment.

THE GLOBAL PRISON AND REFUGEE CAMP SYSTEM

On a global scale, the U.S, China and Russia have the highest numbers of prisoners and hold half of the world’s prison population of nine million. Brazil, India, Mexico, and South Africa also have large prison populations.

The US prison population is estimated at around 2.3 million people, with approximately 540,000 detailed because they cannot pay cash bail. The “War on Drugs” targeted African-Americans, resulting in a Black incarceration rate five times that of whites. Today U.S prisons are incubators of disease, where overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and the lack of medical care and medical staff  leave many prisoners vulnerable to the coronavirus.

In China, over 1.5 million people are currently detained and more than half are political prisoners, the majority of who are ethnic minority Uighurs held in re-education camps in Xinjiang province. By late February, over 500 cases of COVID-19 were reported across five Chinese penitentiaries, and many more are unreported or covered up.

Russia has an estimated prisoner population of 874000. Police forces arbitrarily arrest protesters, including university students and children. At least half a million prisoners in Russia do not have access to hygiene and sanitation protections against the coronavirus.

In the Middle East and North Africa region, Syria has the highest number of political prisoners with roughly 100,000 people. A letter signed by 43 human rights groups calls for the immediate release of all prisoners from detention centers and jails and prisons inside Syria.

Turkey has between 200,000 and 300,000 prisoners. According to Human Rights Watch, it is the world’s leader jailer of journalists. Many activists have also been prosecuted for their social media posts.  There are currently 49,000 political prisoners in Turkey.  Recently,  Turkish officials have agreed to release ⅓ of the incarcerated population in face of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, journalists, Kurdish militants and political activists will be excluded from the measure. Since social distancing is not possible in prison cells, this puts thousands of people at risk of infection.

In Iran, the prison population is approximately 240,000, with no accurate count of political prisoners. The Iranian government’s effort to cover up the spread of the virus until late February   has led to Iran’s population suffering the highest coronavirus death toll in the MENA region so far. There are currently reports of riots in prisons in Tabriz, Azarbaijan, Saqez, Kurdistan, Ahvaz, Khuzestan, Hamedan, as well as a hunger strike of 200 women prisoners in Urmia, all demanding furlough to be saved from COVID-19. The Iranian government claims that it has temporarily release 85,000 prisoners in face of the pandemic. Very few among them are political prisoners.

In Israel, there are over 19,000 imprisoned people, of who over 4500 are Palestinians.  Palestinian prisoners have been cut off from any contact with family or lawyers since the imposition of emergency regulations to combat COVID-19.  In protest over medical negligence, Palestinian prisoners are refusing the meals provided to them by the prison authorities.

In Egypt which has a prison population of over 100,000, some political prisoners have been released.  However tens of thousands remain detained for peacefully protesting, and the number of political prisoners including women political prisoners is rapidly increasing.

The number of people in refugee camps, another form of prison, is the highest since World War II.   Of the 70 million forcibly displaced  people around the world, 29 million are refugees and over half are children.  Two-thirds of refugees come from just five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. The situation of Syrian refugees in Idlib, and in other camps camps in the region  is atrocious. A refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece intended to house 3000 people is now holding 23,000 refugees.  Several aid groups warn of catastrophic consequences for refugees without access to testing, medical facilities and running water.

In South Sudan, there are more than 1.6 million internally displaced people. According to the  International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Nairobi, it takes days for adequate healthcare to reach people for treatable diseases like malaria or diarrhea which sometimes end in fatalities. So far, no confirmed coronavirus cases have been reported in South Sudan. However, contagion in such densely-populated areas could devastate an already fragile healthcare system. Scarcity and lack of beds in two major refugee camps in Southeast Africa which hold around 418,000 refugees and  asylum seekers puts thousands of lives at jeopardy.

In the US, there are 37,000 undocumented immigrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers. At least 7000 children of migrants are being held either in various group homes away from their parents or in detention centers with their parents. Tens of thousands of rejected asylum seekers are in camps at the US-Mexico border.

In light of these realities, it is clear that the world’s detained and displaced will be disproportionately affected by the pandemic, requiring a global response from prison abolitionists.

CHALLENGES FOR GLOBAL SOLIDARITY  

Until now, the US prison abolitionist movement against mass incarceration and police violence has focused on US prisons, only recently broadening their scope to address the detention of undocumented migrants by ICE. Few connections have been made with activists defending political prisoners in China, Russia, the Middle East, and North Africa; or with those organizing in solidarity with the over 70 million refugees and displaced people in camps around the world.

The COVID-19 pandemic compels us to create a global prison abolitionist movement that addresses the connections between prisons, refugee camps, racism, sexism, imperialism and the inhumanity of the capitalist system.

Opposing the carceral system demands taking a stand against all forms of authoritarianism and oppression internationally. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, author of Golden Gulag (2007) and a leader of the US prison abolitionist organization Critical Resistance, has analyzed both the relationship not only between economic crises and the rise in incarceration in the US; and the role of prisons as an instrument of social control to legitimate the power of the capitalist state globally. In a speech to a recent gathering of Critical Resistance in Los Angeles, she emphasized that “reforms will not end prisons. Abolitionism has to be Green, Red, and Internationalist.”

WHAT IS HOLDING US BACK?

Erich Fromm, a socialist humanist theorist from the Frankfurt School, has written about the ways in which the carceral and police system displace mass anger from social and economic conditions and toward prisoners.

While this may explain why broad layers of the popular classes acquiesce to the growth of incarceration, what are the factors impeding coordinated efforts among prison abolitionists and socialist solidarity activists on an international scale?  We want to point to four issues:

  1. There are real distinctions between political prisoners, and “common prisoners” who have been jailed for petty crimes rooted in poverty. However, these differences do not justify a political strategy that focuses exclusively on only on political prisoners. We cannot accept a “class distinction” among prisoners, but most oppose the carceral system itself.
  2. US prison abolitionists recognize the profoundly racialized character of the US prison population where two thirds of the current prison population of 2.3 million and many of the millions on parole are poor and working class Blacks and Latinos. Middle Eastern and North African activists have also highlighted the repression and incarceration of the Kurdish national minorities in Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. Unfortunately, the same solidarity is often not extended to the over one million Uighur Muslims in Xinxiang province who are imprisoned in the Chinese government’s forced labor/“re-education” camps.  We also need to extend our solidarity to the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and the Black population of Darfur, Sudan or of Brazil.
  3. Although the population of women prisoners around the world (officially 714,000) is smaller than the male prison population, women’s imprisonment is  growing at a much faster rate than men’s imprisonment. While some are political prisoners, the majority are in prison because poverty led to their being trafficked, forced to become sex workers, to use or sell drugs,  or because they defended themselves against or were held responsible for the debts of abusive partners. Transgender prisoners are also facing severe abuse around the world.
  4. Finally, there is a tendency among some on the global left to ignore or defend authoritarian rulers who claim to be against US imperialism. This selective anti-imperialism refuses to defend political prisoners in countries such as Syria, Iran, Russia, China, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua even if they oppose all imperialist powers and religious fundamentalism. Of the over 100,000 political prisoners in the brutal Assad regime’s dungeons, the majority are not jihadists – they are youth, Kurdish, labor, and feminist activists who dared to participate in the uprising against the Assad regime in 2011 and after. The millions of Syrian refugees who are being bombed by the Assad regime and their Russia and Iranian allies suffer in refugee camps in the region.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its genocidal ramifications compels us to address these barriers to solidarity and overcome them in order to create a global movement for abolishing prisons and refugee camps.  Part of our program must point to the need to an alternative to the capitalist system itself, which is carceral and authoritarian whether in its neoliberal form or “statist”  forms.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Books

Afary, Kamran.  Performance and Activism:  Grassroots Discourse After the Los Angeles Rebellion of 1992.  Lexington,  2009.

Fromm,  Erich.  “The State as Educator:  On the Psychology of Criminal Justice”  in Critical Criminology:  Beyond the Punitive State.  Kevin B. Anderson and Richard Quinney, editors.   University of Illinois Press,  2000.

Gilmore,  Ruth Wilson.  Golden Gulag:  Prisons, Surplus Crisis and Opposition in Globalizing California.  University of California Press, 2007.

Hartnett, Stephen John.  Challenging the Prison Industrial Complex.  University of Illinois Press, 2011.

Law, Victoria.  Resistance Behind Bars:  The Struggles of Incarcerated Women.  P.M. Press,  2009.

Alexander,  Michelle.  The New Jim Crow:  Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.  The New Press, 2012.

Wang, Jackie.  Carceral Capitalism.  Semiotext(e),  2018

Articles

“Fighting the Prison Industrial Complex” in Communication and Critical Cultural Studies. Volume 4, 2007 – issue 4 (pp. 402-420) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14791420701632956

Ralston, Romarilyn.  Revisiting the Prison Industrial Complex.  Open Democracy, April 15, 2018. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/author/romarilyn-ralston/

Reports

لیلا حسین زاده.  “گزارشی کوتاه از بند زنان زندان اوین.”  زمانه 29 اسفند 1398

گزارشی از زنان زندانی در زندان های ایران.  بیدارزنی.  20 اسفند 1398

انتشار گزارش سالانه اطلس زندان های ایران.  زمانه 21 اسفند 1398

Video Dialogues

Alliance of MENA Socialists. Socialist Feminist International Dialogues

https://allianceofmesocialists.org/dialogue-between-socialist-feminists-from-china-russia-turkey/

https://allianceofmesocialists.org/report-on-socialist-feminist-dialogue-between-iranian-iraqi-palestinian-lebanese-chilean-women/

https://allianceofmesocialists.org/livestream-dialogue-between-sudanese-algerian-african-american-syrian-and-iranian-socialist-feminists/

https://allianceofmesocialists.org/panel-on-challenges-facing-socialist-feminism-march-29livestreamed/

Campaigns

Alliance of MENA Socialists.  Campaign in Solidarity with Feminist Political Prisoners in the Middle East

https://allianceofmesocialists.org/campaign-in-solidarity-with-feminist-political-prisoners-in-the-middle-east-and-north-africa/

https://allianceofmesocialists.org/free-mays-abou-ghosh-and-khalida-jarrar-from-israels-prisons/

The Kurdistan Women’s Communities (KJK) statement on the murder of George Floyd

Originally Published by ANF News

We unequivocally condemn this blatant racially motivated violence perpetrated by the state and express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of George. This crime is neither the first nor, unfortunately, will be the last of its kind.

Only on February 19 of this year, ten people were murdered in the German city of Hanau in a racist rampage at a cafe.

Not a day passes when Kurdish people are not attacked and murdered for simply being Kurdish. Everywhere, particular communities are declared as enemies and attacked.

We must not dismiss these kinds of atrocities as individual acts.

We have to look at them in the overall context of social conditions. Nationalism and racism must be challenged critically and fought effectively in the context of the nation-state and capitalist realities. Racism and nationalism are an extremely efficient ideological instrument of state, power and domination systems.

The Kurdish people have been struggling with the origins of nationalism and oppression as those affected by it for a long time. As a people who has been fighting for centuries for their own rights and freedoms, we have made efforts to understand the oppression we are facing in order to fight and overcome it.

We investigate whether oppression is natural, whether it has always been so or whether it was created in the course of human history. The answer is clear. Oppression is not natural. It is a human product for the concentration of power and domination.

The main issues of our time, such as climate catastrophe, environmental destruction, war, poverty, displacement, pandemics and many more, have their origin in power and domination. The imbalances of power that result in atrocities are ideologically supported by a certain mentality.

This mentality builds up hierarchies and power relations between humans and nature, between the sexes, between ethnic communities and religions, between skin colour, culture and classes.

How else could a particular group dominate, oppress and exploit other peoples? This cannot be achieved by physical violence alone. Undoubtedly, physical violence plays an essential role, but without a mentality that classifies some as subjects and others as objects, this form of millennia-old domination, cannot be maintained.

In this way, hierarchies and power relations emerge in which the rulers — be they men, whites, rich or other “privileged” sections — see it as their natural right to abuse, exploit and murder the “unprivileged.”

The murder of George Floyd should also be seen as part of a war that a state is waging against society. Especially by tightening security measures and extending the powers of security forces, unwelcome citizens are even more at risk. The more people begin to challenge the system, the more state violence against them increases. According to press releases in 2019, 1,099 people were killed by security forces in the USA alone.

While the areas of self-determined life are becoming increasingly restricted, the hegemony of the state is increased in all areas.

Today, the state claims the monopoly on violence for itself, while legitimate self-defense is labeled as terrorism.

The nation-state as a pillar of capitalism has contributed on the one hand to the homogenization of different local and cultural identities and social communities within state borders. On the other hand, nationalism has stirred up and orchestrated hostility amongst ethnic communities against each other.

Humanity experienced the inhuman and destructive extent nationalism can have in the two world wars.

After World War I, for example, Kurdistan was divided among four nation-states without guaranteeing the rights and even mere existence of the Kurdish people and many other peoples.

Our identity was denied, everything Kurdish was declared as barbaric and backwards.

We have long been subjected to assimilation policies, to integrate our culture, language and identify to Turkishness, Arabness or Persianness. Nation-states require a violent enforcement of a homogeneous ethnic identity to operate.

Oppression, power and domination are not natural. Therefore the state system is not natural either, rather an instrument of power of the ruling class. It is a product of human arrangement with origins in the subjugation of women. The first oppressed nation, the first oppressed class are women. It is therefore not surprising that despite countless (both anti-colonial-national and class-related) struggles for freedom and equality, these systems of oppression could not be overcome. Since no revolutionary movement has yet put women’s liberation at the heart of their struggle, they could not attack the core of the oppressive system.

Today we know that without ending social sexism, the swamp of hierarchy, power and oppression cannot be dried up. It is no coincidence that the attacks against women have exploded worldwide in parallel with the rise of nationalism, oppression and fascism.

While racially motivated attacks are on the rise worldwide and governing political systems are shifting to the right, state-patriarchal behavior through certain individuals is being displayed all the more blatantly.

Heads of state threaten women with rape and murder, restrict the hard-won rights of women and try to force women out of public life once again.

It is time to declare a meaningful war on this oppressive system in its entirety. This means that we have to understand and lead the fight against white supremacy, nationalism, sexism and capitalism as one.

We have to stand-up for an alternative system which values differences as the richness of society working towards a mosaic-like cohesion of diversity to unite our struggles.

Simply, people should not be regarded as inferior just because of their skin color, gender, ethnic and religious identity. Let’s build our free life beyond the state, power and hierarchy through democratic structures of self-organization and self-determination.