Hands Off the Uhuru 3!

Uhuru supporters in San Diego say “Hands off the Uhuru 3!” Photo courtesy of The Burning Spear
Uhuru supporters in San Diego say “Hands off the Uhuru 3!” Photo courtesy of The Burning Spear

Jesse Nevel of the Uhuru Solidarity Movement was the interviewee on the June 12 episode of the Fresno Center for Nonviolence–sponsored Stir It Up on KFCF 88.1 FM. He discussed just the movement itself and the federal case being brought against three of its leaders (including Nevel), known as the Uhuru 3. The trio faces up to 15 years in federal prison based on what amounts to constitutionally protected speech. This is an urgent issue that should concern all who care about First Amendment freedoms.

What is the Uhuru Movement?

The Uhuru Solidarity Movement is an anticolonial organization working under the leadership of the African People’s Socialist Party that seeks reparations, African liberation, self-determination and national liberation.

Central to this organization (as well as the government’s case against it) is its leader, Chairman Omali Yeshitela, who began his political life registering voters with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960s. He went on to build the Uhuru movement for African liberation, initiating more than 50 Black community economic institutions across the United States and Africa.

In five decades, Yeshitela has traveled to 19 countries to advocate for African unity and freedom, including in 2019 as the winning presenter at the Oxford Union’s “Africa Debate.” He has been profiled and interviewed on platforms such as CNN, Democracy Now, Al Mayadeen, Press TV and the New York Times. His published writings convey his consistent worldview of African Internationalism and anti-colonialism, as can be read in 55 years of The Burning Spear newspaper, available in the University of Florida’s digital newspaper collection.

Prosecution and Persecution of the Uhuru 3

On Sept. 3, the Uhuru 3 (Yeshitela, Penny Hess and Nevel) are scheduled to be in federal court in Tampa facing baseless charges that they have been pawns in a Russian government conspiracy to “sow discord” and “interfere in elections.” If convicted, the trio faces up to 15 years in prison, effectively a life sentence for the 82-year-old Yeshitela, a veteran of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements.

In its April 2023 indictment of Chairman Yeshitela and co-defendants Hess and Nevel—two leaders of the Uhuru movement’s white solidarity and reparations wing—government prosecutors cite the Uhuru 3’s call for reparations, accusation of U.S. genocide against Black people and opposition to U.S. wars as evidence of foreign Russian control. Yeshitela calls this a “racist denial of Black people’s agency. We can think for ourselves and define our own agenda!”

The indictment came nine months after the FBI’s July 29, 2022, violent raid on seven homes and offices of Uhuru leaders in St. Louis and St. Petersburg, Fla., during which computers, phones, hard drives and files were seized but no arrests were made.

Why This Matters for All

Many consider this the opening salvo in the government’s escalation of political repression of free speech in the United States. In addition, we see the RICO indictments and gag order on 61 Stop Cop City protesters in Atlanta, and today’s widespread campaign of firings, arrests and expulsions targeting pro-Palestinian teachers, students, legislators, activists, journalists and celebrities.

Recent months have seen former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi verbally attack Code Pink activists for their principled opposition to U.S. complicity in Israeli war crimes against the Palestinian people, shouting at them to “go back to China, where your headquarters is.” Julian Assange until recently languished in prison for reporting factually on the crimes of the U.S. war machine.

First Amendment lawyers and analysts warn that this is a precedent-setting case that will put an end to constitutional protections of everyone’s free speech rights because it is the first time that a “foreign agent” law is being used to prosecute alleged “crimes” consisting exclusively of giving speeches, attending conferences, printing articles and running for elected office.

Activists and historians denounce the charges as a continuation of the FBI’s decades-long war on the Black movement, beginning with J. Edgar Hoover’s career-launching campaign against Marcus Garvey, through the “Red Scare” that targeted such figures as W.E.B. DuBois and Paul Robeson, and most well-known in the COINTELPRO efforts to “discredit and neutralize” Black leaders of the 1960s including Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Huey Newton and Fred Hampton.

The Department of Justice’s prosecution of the Uhuru 3 has been denounced by free speech defenders across the political spectrum, including attorney Robert Patillo, Cynthia McKinney, Jill Stein, Glenn Greenwald, Margaret Flowers, Margaret Kimberley, SNCC veterans Efia Nwangaza and Willie Mukassa Ricks, Ajamu Baraka and Mumia Abu Jamal.

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein says that “Omali has been such an incredible educator and advocate to end colonialism, to end this failing empire. This is an absolute outrage!”

Former New York City Council Member Charles Barron declared, “How dare you, the United States, say that we don’t have enough intelligence and history to organize around reparations and colonial capitalism, to organize around genocide; we need Russia to come in and do that for us?”

Regarding the indictments of the Uhuru 3, the National Lawyers Guild warns that, “In clear violation of the First Amendment, the Department of Justice is prosecuting U.S. citizens for domestic speech and political activities because they do not align with the policies of the U.S. government.”

The U.S. Peace Council concurs: “It is clear that the charges against the Uhuru 3 are politically motivated in that they are being applied selectively. The United States’ charges against the Uhuru 3 set a dangerous precedent threatening the First Amendment rights of all people.”

How to Lend Support and Build Solidarity

Concerned activists and community members will make their voices heard in a march and rally on Aug. 31 in St. Petersburg, Fla., birthplace of the Uhuru Movement. They will then converge on the federal court in Tampa for the start of the trial on Sept. 3. 

In the spirit of “none of us are free until we are all free,” it is imperative that no matter what issues spur us into action, we are all under threat of the federal government prosecuting this trio of activists, and our solidarity is more important now than ever before.

“Hands Off Uhuru!” calls defense campaign leader Mwezi Odom, “We must pack the court on Sept. 3! Come out and stand up for everyone’s rights to free speech!”

As Nevel stated during his appearance on Stir It Up, “It is so important we are out in the world speaking to the public and winning in the court of public opinion,” adding that “everyone that cares about free speech has an interest in standing behind the Hands Off Uhuru campaign.”

Take Action!

To learn more about “Hands Off Uhuru! Hands Off Africa!,” visit handsoffuhuru.org or contact the campaign’s publicist, Sandra Forrest, at info@handsoffuhuru.org.


  • Joshua Shurley

    Dr. Joshua Shurley is a peace activist, educator and frequent host of Stir It Up on KFCF 88.1 FM. Contact him at josh@veteransforpeace.org.

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