Chelsea Manning will walk out of prison a free woman on May 17 after President Obama in the waning days of his presidency heeded the calls of activists and the public to commute the sentence of the former Army soldier turned whistleblower.
“Chelsea’s release is massive victory for free speech, human rights, and democracy,” said Evan Greer, campaign director for Fight for the Future, who helped spearhead a campaign to get Obama to commute her sentence and who became friends with Manning over the past year.
REM lead singer Michael Stipe said the commutation reflected “incredible courage” by Obama and Manning.
“What a thrilling day for true patriots!!” Stipe said.
Greer, in comments sent to SC Media, called Manning’s impending freedom “a testament to the power of grassroots organizing.”
Manning, who was convicted under the 1917 Espionage Act, has spent seven years of a 35-year sentence behind bars for transmitting classified diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. Supporters have called her sentence one of the harshest ever for similar leaks. Just last Friday, Dinah PoKempner, general counsel at Human Rights Watch, wrote in a blog post that Manning’s prison term was “grossly disproportionate” and said action by Obama would be “appropriate since she was unable under the law to argue that any of her leaks were justified in the public interest, nor did the government have to show that a specific harm resulted from her leaks.”
Greer told SC Media last week that authorities had likely made an example of Manning because the Obama administration “had an abysmal record for prosecuting whistleblowers.”
Fellow whistleblower Edward Snowden, who sought asylum in Russia after turning over classified documents that revealed the extent of U.S. government surveillance of its citizens, took to Twitter to congratulate Manning.
“In five more months, you will be free. Thank you for what you did for everyone, Chelsea. Stay strong a while longer!” Snowden tweeted.
Manning, who has been denied some of the medical care she needed for gender dysmorphia, has attempted suicide on two occasions from the all-male prison where she has been riding out her sentence.
Activists were hoping that Obama would similarly act on Snowden, offering the former NSA contractor clemency. But while more than a million of his supporters have asked the outgoing president to pardon Snowden, CNN quoted White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that “Mr. Snowden has not filed paperwork to seek clemency from this administration.”