Chicago’s Political Prisoners

Photo: WBEZ
Photo: WBEZ

May 10, 2013 –   In the days leading up to last May’s NATO conference, Chicago police preemtively arrested a number of activists around the city. Nearly a year later, five of those activists, now known as the NATO 5, remain incarcerated.  Two have taken plea deals. Three are awaiting trail.

NATO5 actually refers to three separate incidents preceding last May’s NATO summit, which lead to the arrest and arraignment of five young men: Brent Betterly, Brian Jacob Church, Jared Chase, Mark Neiweem, and Sebastian Senakiewicz.

On May 16, 2012, Betterly, Church, and Chase were arrested in a raid on a Bridgeport home, along with eleven other activists. In weeks following the arrests, it came to light that two of the eleven “activists” were undercover Chicago cops.

The three men were charged with eleven felony counts, including material support for terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism, possession of an incendiary device, conspiracy to commit arson, solicitation to commit arson, attempted arson, and unlawful use of a weapon. Bail was set at $1.5 million each. As such, all three men have been incarcerated since their arrests last May. Betterly, Church, and Chase face sentences up to 40 years apiece, and are expected to go to trial this September.

Neiweem was arrested in a “snatch-and-grab” as he was leaving a Chicago restaurant on May 17, 2012. He was charged with soliciting an incendiary device from an undercover Chicago cop, one of the same cops involved in the Bridgeport raid. Facing a sentence of up to 30 years,  Neiweem accepted a non-cooperating plea deal this past April, and was sentenced to 3 years in a state prison.

Senakiewicz was arrested in a house raid on May 17, 2012, and charged with falsely making a terrorist threat.  The state alleges Senakiewicz told an undercover officer that he had explosive materials and wanted to use them during the NATO convention. Although Senakiewicz denied possessing the explosives, and police found none during their raid, he was held on $750,000 bond and faced 15 years in prison as well as deportation to his native Poland, following his sentence. Last November, Senakiewicz signed a non-cooperating plea deal, and was sentenced to 4 years with a recommendation of 4 months in boot camp.

Attorneys representing Betterly, Church, and Chase  filed a motion to overturn the terrorism charges as unconstitutional, citing an overly broad definition of terrorism as a violation of First Amendment rights. However, Cook County Judge Thaddeus Wilson found in favor of the state, ruling the Illinois terrorism statute “Constitutional on its face”.

Many feel these five young men are being held as political prisoners, under broad post 9/11 terrorism statutes, in order  to set an example and undermine protest movements.

Steve Horn, reporting for Antiwar.com, claims the undercover police informants “pushed the terrorism plot forward, potentially manufactured it wholesale, and then slapped the label ‘terrorism’ on it”.

NATO 5 Defense Committee describes these arrests as part of “a carefully orchestrated strategy by Chicago police and public officials to target, infiltrate, entrap, and harass activists as part of a larger effort to discredit protest, increase police surveillance, and expand corporate welfare in the city of Chicago”.

 

 

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