Release Silvia Baraldini
Jenny Brown
April 1997

Silvia Baraldini is a 48-year-old Italian citizen who has served 14 years in the U.S. prison system. Her sentence, 43 years, is longer than most rapists and murderers receive. The acts for which she was convicted were attempted robbery (though the robbery never occurred) and aiding a prisoner's escape. Her attorney, Elizabeth Fink, says "She was never accused, let alone convicted of aiding and/or participating in any act which resulted in injury to anyone. She was never armed and was arrested on a busy street in Manhattan without incident and without a weapon... her fourteen year imprisonment and her 43 year sentence were imposed not because of what she did but because of what she believes... if she did not hold political beliefs in support of national liberation struggles here and worldwide, she would have been released and living free long ago."

The U.S. denies that it punishes people for their political beliefs. But Silvia fits every definition of a political prisoner. She received her incredible 40 year "racketeering" sentence (the maximum) for aiding in the escape of jailed Black revolutionary leader Assata Shakur. Another three years were added to her sentence when she refused to testify before a grand jury investigating the Puerto Rican independence movement. Silvia was a student radical in the '60's and 70's, fighting against racism, protesting the Vietnam War and demonstrating for women's rights. Later she campaigned for an end to apartheid and colonialism in Africa and, as a result, was invited to the inauguration of the new government in Zimbabwe. She worked to expose the FBI's illegal COINTELPRO operations that spied on and harassed domestic political dissidents. Silvia recalls that in her case, "The presiding judge furiously stated that if I had been a member of the Mafia I would have gotten a lighter sentence."

"I was arrested in 1982 on RICO [Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations] charges, accused of having aided members of the Black Liberation Army in a conspiracy against the United States. In reality I participated in the escape of Black revolutionary Assata Shakur, who now lives in Cuba." Silvia states.

In 1989, Italy signed the Strasbourg Convention, specifically to petition for Silvia's return to Italy. The Convention provides for the transfer of prisoners to their country of origin to complete their sentences. Though the U.S. has transferred thousands of prisoner under the Convention, the Republic of Italy's four appeals, to both Bush and Clinton administrations, have been denied. One million Italian citizens have appealed for her return, and the signatures of ten thousand U.S. citizens were presented to the Justice Department in 1992. The European Parliament voted unanimously for her repatriation in 1995. Silvia's mother lives alone in Rome and her sister, Marina Baraldini, was killed in a tragic plane crash caused by an explosion for which the Islamic Jihad has taken responsibility.

For two years Silvia, with two other political prisoners, Alejandrina Torres and Susan Rosenberg, was entombed in an experimental "small group isolation" unit in Lexington, Kentucky. The control unit was the subject of a PBS documentary entitled "Through the Wire" and the object of many protests. The unit was closed after an international and domestic human rights campaign led to a court decisions finding a violation of constitutional rights. Extended prisoner isolation and control unit conditions have not been eliminated from U.S. prisons, however. Silvia contracted uterine cancer while in Lexington and was given late, inadequate treatment. She received regular, prescribed follow-up medical treatments only after another nationwide campaign.

While imprisoned Silvia has organized with other prisoners an on-going AIDS project, and currently she teaches African-American history as her prison job. She also completed her Bachelor's degree and entered a Master's program in Comparative Literature while incarcerated.

Silvia has been eligible for parole since 1993. Parole guidelines for the crimes for which Silvia is incarcerated specify 40 to 52 months of incarceration. She has served more than 170 months.

"The history of the national liberation movements of the '60's and '70's which fought to eliminate colonialism and gain independence for their nations is being purposely misrepresented to better serve today's objectives" Silvia writes in a December 12, 1996 letter. "In keeping with this, a national election was just held whose hallmark was the successful avoidance by both parties to ever address the question of white supremacy and racism. Political prisoners are now battling for their release in this barren ground and politically hostile atmosphere ... this state of affairs has pushed many of the political prisoners who seek release into to arms of the parole board. I have resisted this step for many years because of the many initiatives on my behalf in Italy and because the Parole Board, an arm of the U.S. government, has been singularly unresponsive to the individuals who have appeared before it."

"Now, after many discussions with individuals on both sides of the Atlantic, I have concluded that this is the time for me to see the Parole Board... and ask to be immediately paroled to the deportation order which will return me to Italy. I have reached this decision because not to do so would imply tacit agreement with my continued incarceration. ... I write to ask all of you to support my request for immediate deportation by writing to the board and by contributing funds to the campaign [addresses below]. Your support is essential, meeting the board without the backing of a large number of supporters is futile."

Her lawyer states: "Because of the political nature of Silvia's conviction, it is extremely likely that the parole commission will refuse to follow its own guidelines and rule that Silvia must serve 25 years in prison. This statement is made with the experiences of other political prisoners in mind. Except in one case, the parole commission has uniformly gone outside its guidelines and held all other political prisoners until the end of their prison terms."

Silvia will appear before the Parole Board in July 1997. Write letters supporting her parole to Commissioner John R. Simpson, U.S. Parole Commission, 550 Friendship Boulevard, Suite 420, Chevy Chase, MD 20815 but MAIL THEM to her attorney, Elizabeth Fink, Esq., 294 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11201.

Send financial contributions to the Committee to Return Silvia Baraldini to Italy, P.O. Box 02-1140, Brooklyn, NY 11202.

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