|(PHOTO: Artwork displayed at Herman Wallace’s memorial service. See more photos of the memorial service by Ann Harkness.)
Robert H. King, Herman Wallace, and Albert Woodfox are the trio of Black Panther political prisoners known collectively as the Angola 3. On October 1, 2013 Herman Wallace was dramatically released from prison after 41 years in solitary confinement. At the time of his release, he had been fighting terminal liver cancer for several months. Three days later, on Oct. 4, Herman was surrounded by loved ones as he passed on at a friend’s house in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Albert Woodfox remains in solitary confinement to this day and with only temporary respite from routine body cavity searches pending an upcoming ruling by the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. On April 17, 2014, marking 42 years since Albert Woodfox was first placed in solitary, Amnesty International renewed its call for his immediate release (view Amnesty’s statement and essay) and today continues their online campaign (sign the petition here).
Robert King spent 29 years in continuous solitary confinement until his conviction was overturned and he was released from Louisiana’s infamous Angola State Prison in 2001. Himself the subject of a recent Canadian film, King spoke in Paris, France this past May at an event celebrating the release of Panthers in the Hole and has traveled Europe many times while on earlier speaking tours.
To further discuss the release of Panthers in the Hole and Amnesty France’s broader support for Albert Woodfox and the Angola 3, we interviewed NicolasKrameyer, who is head of the Individuals at Risk / Human Rights Defenders Program for Amnesty International France.
Angola 3 News: Can you please tell us about your recent work related to the Angola 3?
Nicolas Krameyer: Amnesty France has made the Angola 3 (A3) a priority campaign.
We included Albert and Herman’s case as part of our biggest annual event, known as Write for Rights in December 2012. In just a few weeks, at least 50,000 supporters signed the petition for an end to their solitary confinement.
We also organized a solidarity campaign where activists sent Herman and Albert messages of support. The letter-writers quickly received very strong and moving answers from Herman and Albert, which we then shared among other activists.
A few months later, we invited Robert King for a two-week speaking tour in France and Brussels, which gave national media coverage to the A3 and the widespread use of solitary confinement in the USA. Both the A3 case and the issue of solitary confinement were totally unknown to the general public. Even the partners and institutions with whom we normally work on human rights activism were not familiar with these issues.
A3N: What do you think are the main reasons for the French public’s interest?
NK: Beside the widespread publicity, I think there are 3 key factors that explain why so many people feel now concerned about the Angola 3 case:
(1) The monstrous nature of the case. There are very few examples in the world of such a blatant human rights violation for such a long period of time: more than 4 decades!
(2) The audience could follow the different steps of the clear campaign of vengeance lead by the local Louisiana authorities, like when the prosecutor appealed Albert’s third overturned conviction, or in October 2013 when the State authorities did their most to impede Herman’s release despite his health. That clearly angered people here in France, and one indicator of this was that journalists were publishing articles every time something new happened, which is quite rare.
(3) Lastly, this has been made possible because of Robert’s presence and strength, which he clearly communicated to all types of audiences, from the media to French officials and activists.
A3N: Overall, how do you think Amnesty France’s A3 and anti-solitary campaigning has impacted France?
NK: Previously, solitary confinement was not really considered a big human rights issue, except for some rare experts or USA specialists here. Guantanamo and death penalty continue to be the two main public topics in regards to human rights violations known in France. The A3 and Robert King gave a face to that common practice of cruel and inhumane treatment in the USA.
Even if we can’t go into details here, we know that probably for first time, French and EU governments officially raised this issue with their US counterparts.
A3N: Can you tell us more about the new graphic novel, entitled Panthers in the Hole? How has it been received since being released in May?