Panthers in the Hole , the new graphic novel about the Angola 3 here.)
in the Hole: French Angola 3 Book Illustrates US Prison Crisis
interview with Nicolas Krameyer of Amnesty International France
Angola 3 News
International France and La Boîte Bulles
have published a 128-page French language graphic novel entitled Panthers in the Hole.
The book's co-authors David Cenou and Bruno Cenou present with visual
art what Amnesty France describes as "la tragique histoire des Trois
d'Angola" (the tragic story of the Angola 3).
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.
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 today continues their online campaign (sign the petition here
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.
further discuss the release of Panthers in the Hole and Amnesty
France's broader support for Albert Woodfox and the Angola 3, we
interviewed Nicolas Krameyer
, who is head of the Individuals at Risk / Human Rights Defenders Program for
Amnesty International France
. A sample of images from Panthers in the Hole are featured throughout the interview.
Robert King at the Panthers in the Hole
book launch in Paris, France organized by Amnesty France. A photo of Albert Woodfox is projected on the screen.)
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
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
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.
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:
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
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
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.
how do you think Amnesty France's A3 and anti-solitary campaigning has impacted
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
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?
NK: The comic book gives the local historical
context leading up to the A3's horrific situation. The historic racism and the
political context of the 60's and 70's is very present in the book. In short,
the content is a mix between Robert's autobiography and the documentary film In the Land of the Free. However, the
authors have also read and researched a lot about Angola prison and the
different trial transcripts of the three men.
I really like how the authors recreated the atmosphere of the 60's, which gives
a special strength to the book. It is a bit as if In the Land of the Free had been covering the past 50 years of the
story. Importantly, it also moves a different audience that is not necessarily
familiar with human rights issues.
far, 2 months later, sales have been strong and feedback received from the editor
suggests the book has been well received.
over 2.4 million prisoners, today, the US has the highest incarceration rate in
the world. Do you
think the crisis of mass incarceration relates to the widespread practice of solitary
confinement in US prisons, especially considering that solitary confinement has
been shown to increase recidivism rates?
NK: Amnesty does not take a position on the
incarceration rate a nation has. However, the widespread and routine use of
long term solitary confinement in the US is not only contrary to international
human rights law, as a clear form of inhumane treatment that amounts to
torture. It also does contribute to recidivism because it greatly hinders the
possibility for a rehabilitation process when the detainee comes out.
it is not only morally wrong, it is clearly inefficient, and also very
African American leader Malcolm X was developing his internationalist and
anti-capitalist politics in the months leading up to his February 1965
assassination, he spoke about the need to shift from a focus on 'civil rights'
to one of 'human rights.' He announced further that he would be seeking
assistance from the United Nations to rectify the human rights abuses being
committed by the US government against the African American community. How can international
pressure influence a country as powerful as the US, who has openly violated
human rights laws and treaties like at the infamous Guantanamo Bay and Bagram
prisons that Amnesty International has criticized
NK: I would say that the US' power within the
international community presents both a challenge and an opportunity for the
international community, or as Robert King would say, the international court
of public opinion.
is a challenge because many nations don't want to confront the US on human
rights issues. This is true even, and sometimes especially with 'friends' and
traditional allies like EU countries. It is a shame how EU countries can adopt
a double discourse on human rights that varies depending on the nation they
have dialogue with. This is despite the fact that as friends and allies of the US, they
definitely could use their influence more effectively than other countries.
is an opportunity because in order to maintain its power, the US needs not only
to engage the rest of the world on military or economic levels, but also on
what is called "soft power." This means
that for the US to still be considered a leading country, it has also to be
recognized for the human rights record they have.
isolated on human rights issues or other international issues, being regularly
criticized within the intergovernmental bodies or in the international media,
is not beneficial to the US as a nation, even if the US media or public opinion
does not talk so much about these issues. That's what happens in a way
regarding the death penalty. Being one of the biggest executioners, with only
very authoritarian regimes doing the same, is not good for the US image.
focus to France, what types of human rights violations are you currently
focusing on within your own country? How widespread are human rights violations
in the French criminal justice system? To what extent is prolonged solitary
confinement used in France?
NK: The main human rights violations that we as
Amnesty oppose are not in the criminal justice system, although it is clearly
not perfect: from what I know from other expert NGOs on the matter, prison
conditions in France are a real shame and are regularly criticized by
international bodies such as the European Court on human rights.
for excessive violence or abuses committed by police officers is also a great
matter of concern in France.
the main issues we as Amnesty have to tackle right now in France, and more
generally in Europe, are the rights of migrants. Today in Europe, borders are clearly
more important than people's lives and this policy results in massive human
rights violations, including right to life, with migrants dying in the
Mediterranean Sea or being held in inhumane detention centers just for trying
to escape the problems in their country and for wanting a better life.
key focus of ours relates to the discrimination faced by marginalized groups
like Muslims and above all, rights of Roma communities.
activists, we can often learn important lessons from other communities'
struggles for justice around the world. Based upon your work and victories in
France, what is your advice for human rights activists in the US who are
working around prison issues?
NK: It is a very hard question, but I would
recommend inviting activists and specialists from other countries and other
contexts to share their best practices and experiences with US activists. This helps to see the common aspects of the fight
and what worked well. It also helps to identify what is specific to your own
local context and what therefore has to be addressed specifically in your
NK: Free Albert!
--Angola 3 News
is a project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website
is www.angola3news.com where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. We
are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to
the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights,
solitary confinement as torture, and more.