Lynne Stewart

NEW YORK ( – Civil liberties attorney Lynne Stewart, 74, was granted compassionate release from a federal prison hospital after serving four years of a 10-year sentence. She was convicted of providing material support to terrorist activity and two counts of giving false statements.

The root of her crime, according to one of her attorneys, was conveying to the press back in 2000 thoughts from client Sheikh Omar Rahman about events in Egypt. She was convicted in July 2010 and ordered to serve 120 months in prison with two years of supervised release.

Sheikh Rahman had been convicted of plotting to blow up landmarks in New York. “All he wanted was for Egypt to become a free Islamic state,” Ms. Stewart told The Final Call in an exclusive interview.


On Dec. 31, she walked to freedom at New York’s JFK Airport to the cheers of nearly 100 people. Doctors, however, have concluded she has only 18 months to live suffering from stage IV breast cancer.

“I am going to defeat the cancer,” Ms. Stewart said, emphatically during an interview Jan. 3. “I want to be out here as long as I can be.”

Her voice was strong and while choosing words carefully, she laid out her activist agenda. “Number one priority is the issue of women in prison; many of them go 10 years without a visitor. I hope my case would be a tool to shed light on the plight of women behind bars,” Ms. Stewart said.

“Number two, of course, is the issue of political prisoners who have been too long in prisons and without exception posing no harm to the United States government–except that their minds are still sharp,” she continued. We must also confront the issue of keeping these prisoners in solitary confinement, Ms. Stewart added.

She explained how disenchanted she has become with today’s style of “lawyering.” “These young lawyers walk into a courtroom smiling and chatting with the prosecutors and the judges. I have walked into courtrooms where there was not one friendly face,” she recalled.

“I spoke before the National Lawyers’ Guild some years ago, and I said we needed to go back to the old style of lawyering. We must also go into the courts to fight the use of water boarding just because the government said a person is a terrorist, this is a constitutional wrong,” Ms. Stewart said.

She plans to talk to young lawyers and encourage them to have backbone, Ms. Stewart said.

What about revelations from Edward Snowden concerning the depth of government spying and the Wikileaks’ exposes? “We have to have the courage to turn up the heat–right now the electronic surveillance can be defeated if people would just say no more,” she argued.  

Another target for Ms. Stewart is the education system. “It is not in the interest of the system to teach our children,” she said. “The turning point in my life came at the age of 22 when I walked into an elementary school in Harlem and witnessed the inequality. I tell my grandchildren the stories of the battles for justice in the 1960s; and about people such as Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser, The Scottsboro Boys and Harriet Tubman.”

Ms. Stewart stopped for a moment to reflect on the recent passing of Nelson Mandela and the sanitizing his movement. “Look, we all want peace, but how do we get there?” she asked.

Mindful, her doctor ordered her to take it easy, Ms. Stewart reflected on the people who supported her over the years. “How can I ever forget that Min. Louis Farrakhan stood with me and supported me? The 40,000 people that signed the petition to argue for my release such as South Africa’s Bishop Desmond Tutu and Dr. Dick Gregory, how important all of them were to this day,” she said.

“I felt good when I got the call that she would be released,” Mr. Gregory told The Final Call. “I had never heard much about her before, but the vibration from her friends and her husband [Ralph Poynter]. The beautiful people putting all of that energy behind getting her freed,” he said. “I say to Lynne Stewart, thank you, thank you, you give all of us strength.”

The one time attorney is truly a “warrior woman,”’ Sara Flounders, co-founder of the International Action Center, told The Final Call. “There were nearly 100 of us at the airport, and we were expecting her to come into the waiting room in a wheelchair, but not Lynne Stewart. There she is–arms raised, shouting resist, resist.”

“Her release is absolutely a people’s victory, because this system is incapable of justice or compassion,” Ms. Flounders added.