Death Row calling: The man broadcasting to save his life

Mumia Abu-Jamal, a US journalist, faces renewed calls for him to be put to death. Ian Burrell reports

Few journalists have polarised public opinion quite like Mumia Abu-Jamal, although his fame owes less to his writing and broadcasting than to the fact that he has spent more than 27 years in jail, mostly on death row.

In the confines of his cell at Green State Correctional Institution in Pennsylvania, Abu-Jamal, who despite his denials was convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer in 1981, has written a string of big-selling books (the latest with a foreword by Angela Davis).

Using his ration of three 15-minute phone calls a week, he broadcasts via a website called Prison Radio, amassing a catalogue of podcasts on subjects as diverse as the oeuvre of author CLR James to the activities of pirates operating off the Horn of Africa, a piece he produced last week. In each broadcast he signs off, in a rich voice, with "from Death Row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal".

In Germany, fund-raising concerts are held for Abu-Jamal's cause; in the Saint-Denis area of Paris, a street has been named after him (a gesture that so enraged America's Fraternal Order of Police that members flew to France to protest). To Maureen Faulkner, the wife of the murdered officer, Daniel, Abu-Jamal is unquestionably guilty: a "remorseless, hate-filled killer".

The fate of the 54-year-old has become central to the lives of Livia Giuggioli-Firth and her husband, the actor Colin Firth. The couple have invested money in a film which highlights flaws in the case against the former Black Panther activist, who faces renewed calls for his execution after the US Supreme Court rejected his latest appeal for clemency this month.

Sitting in a coffee bar at St Pancras International station in north London, Giuggioli-Firth holds a DVD she has produced about the background to the case: a documentary that the Firths are distributing through a network of online contacts. Although it is directed by Marc Evans (whose feature films include Snow Cake with Sigourney Weaver), no British broadcaster has yet chosen to screen the documentary, which was shown at the Sundance Film Festival.

"Considering the amount of rubbish you see on television, you would think that a channel would be interested in broadcasting a movie like this," says Giuggioli-Firth of the film, which includes interviews with Angela Davis and her fellow authors Alice Walker and Noam Chomsky, and the rappers Snoop Dogg and Mos Def. All of them agree Abu-Jamal should be re-tried.

The documentary includes stills taken by the photojournalist Pedro Polakoff, which were not used at the trial but show a police officer handling the alleged murder weapon without gloves (contradicting evidence given in court), and a crime scene that was not properly secured. The stenographer at the trial has claimed she heard the judge, Albert Sabo, say, "I'm going to help them fry the nigger", which the judge denies. Amnesty International argued in 2001 that the trial violated international standards.

Abu-Jamal represented himself in court and, except for denying murder, chose not to say what happened when he went to the aid of his brother, Billy Cook, who was being arrested by Officer Faulkner. Neither did Abu-Jamal call his brother, who fled the murder scene, as a witness.

Giuggoli-Firth acknowledges the remarkable nature of the case and the emotion it arouses. "The pro-Mumia people can make him out to be almost like a saint, a Che Guevara figure, whereas the anti-Mumia people say he is a black-hearted murderer," she says. "We decided to make a movie around what Mumia represents and why it has become such a political and inflammatory case." The film is called In Prison My Whole Life because it tells the story through the eyes of a young Briton, William Francome, who was born on the same night that Abu-Jamal was arrested and, as a child, learned of the case from his mother, a US political activist. The documentary highlights the racial politics in Philadelphia at the time of the shooting and the black radical group MOVE, which Abu-Jamal supported and was later bombed by police from a helicopter.

"We believe it is possible that there was another person in Billy Cook's car that night," says Giuggoli-Firth. Cook gave the film an unprecedented interview, saying there was someone with him but declining to say who. Such theories cut little ice with more right-wing elements of the Philadelphia media. Michael Smerconish, author of a book called Murdered By Mumia, celebrated the court ruling and condemned Abu-Jamal's campaign as "a charade".

Giuggoli-Firth, who describes Abu-Jamal as an "incredibly intelligent and articulate man", believes the time has come for the prolific writer and broadcaster to speak about the details of his case. "Mumia has always proclaimed his innocence and said he is going to talk the day he has a new trial," she says. "Now he has to say something. There is nothing else he can do."

The DVD costs £12.49 plus P&P at www.inprisonmywholelife.com

Mumia Abu-Jamal broadcasts at www.prisonradio.org

Voices
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
scienceHad asteroid hit earlier or later in history, the creatures might have survived, say scientists
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
President Obama, one of the more enthusiastic users of the fist bump
scienceBumping fists rather than shaking hands could reduce the spread of infectious diseases, it is claimed
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

BI Analyst

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency in Central Lo...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried