Jailed NATO protester pleads guilty, begins three year prison sentence

Mark Neiweem

(Adapted from press releases at nato5support.wordpress.com)

Mark Neiweem, a 28-year-old Chicago activist, pleaded guilty in Cook County Court April 11 to felony charges brought on by interactions with undercover Chicago police officers who had infiltrated activist groups prior to protests at the NATO summit held in Chicago in May, 2012. Neiweem pleaded guilty to a probation violation charge from a previous conviction and to solicitation and attempted possession of an explosive or incendiary device.

Neiweem, who spent 329 continuous days in the notorious conditions of Cook County Jail while awaiting trial, will now serve out the remainder of a 3-year sentence in a state prison.

“The politically motivated prosecution and abuse Mark suffered in Cook County Jail point to a degree of coordinated state repression and coercion which was physically and psychologically unbearable,” said Rachel Unterman of the NATO 5 Defense Committee. “Ultimately, Mark decided to end his ordeal and be transferred out of Cook County Jail by taking a non-cooperating plea deal.”

He is expected to receive credit for time served and other reductions in the duration of his incarceration for good behavior. He has been transferred to the Stateville Correctional Center pending assignment to his final location, which is not yet known. (His prison address will be kept up-to-date here.)

Neiweem faced two consecutive prison sentences as a result of his probation violation, which required a minimum of several years and for which he did not have the right to a jury trial. This charge stood separate from his NATO arrest charges of solicitation and attempted possession of an incendiary device. He was also routinely targeted by jail guards for abuse and mistreatment since last May.

“Mark was willing to tolerate far more abuse than could ever have been expected of him in order to stand up for his political and ethical beliefs,” Unterman said. “In the end, pleading guilty to receive concurrent rather than consecutive sentences was the only realistic and rational alternative he had.”

In the lead-up to the NATO protests last May, Neiweem was one of several activists specifically targeted by undercover police officers for his political views and as part of a larger effort to justify the millions of taxpayer dollars spent on police during the NATO summit. He was arrested suddenly and without explanation on May 17 of last year, pulled into a black van and held in jail for three days without explanation, charges or a hearing. While he was initially given a $500,000 bond, this was revoked due to his probation violation, leaving him trapped in Cook County Jail pending trial.

While in jail, the police took advantage of a serious medical condition, putting his life at risk by denying him access to vital medication and forcing several trips to the hospital. Neiweem also encountered repeated physical assault by guards in the jail, in addition to the usual and sundry deprivations experienced by Cook County Jail prisoners, including being placed in solitary confinement multiple times, undergoing continual “lock-downs”, having books and possessions destroyed by guards, and being prevented from buying basic necessities by guards who deface commissary request-slips to render them unreadable.

More information on Neiweem and the other defendants in the NATO 5 can be found at nato5support.wordpress.com, on Facebook at Free the NATO 5!, and on Twitter @FreeNATO5.