As 60 day hunger strike ends, N.C. protest demands: Free Dr. Sami Al-Arian
Posted by raleighfist on April 2, 2007
by Dante Strobino, Raleigh FIST
More than 100 activists and supporters of Dr. Sami Al-Arian rallied near the federal prison in Butner, N.C., March 24 to demand the prisoner’s immediate release. There, the condemned supporter of a liberated Palestine had just successfully ended his long hunger strike on its 61st day.
WW photo: Raleigh FIST
Dr. Al-Arian began his hunger strike on Jan. 22 to protest the federal government’s latest stage of harassment. Standing by his principles, Dr. Al-Arian refused to testify in front of the Eastern District of Virginia court and was charged with civil contempt. The federal government then rescinded an earlier ruling to release him on April 16 and prolonged his inhumane incarceration by an additional 18 months. He has already unjustly been in jail since Feb 20, 2003.
Supporters gathered along with Nahla Al-Arian, Dr. Al-Arian’s wife, and two of his children because on March 23, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected al-Arian’s argument to drop the civil contempt charges. Dr. Al-Arian’s hunger strike had come to a powerful ending in the face of state repression.
Dr. Al-Arian’s attorney, Linda Moreno, said: “Sami Al-Arian is not in search of death, but is seeking an opportunity for a dignified life. He understands he needs to regain his strength to assist in the fight to release him from federal custody as a result of the violation of the plea agreement by the Justice Department that is responsible for his current incarceration.”
During his two-month hunger strike, Dr. Al-Arian lost 55 pounds and his ability to walk. After visiting him last weekend, his family was alarmed at his physical state and deteriorating health. “I was shocked when I saw my husband,” Nahla Al-Arian said at the time. “He is rail thin.” (http://freesamialarian.com)
The local chapter of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation (MAS FF) had organized the event to help break the media white-out surrounding this case and also to show Dr. Al-Arian and his suffering family the extent of community support for his freedom.
Khalilah Sabra, local director of MAS FF and the event’s chief organizer, called the recent ruling “an injustice.” She continued: “The appeals court sought what the jury did not [accomplish]. … the court follows a political agenda that is fascist, racist and oppressive, which is in the interests of their political allies. Along with their secret flights [CIA torture renditions that take place in Kinston, N.C.—D.S.] this is the continuation of torture that this government publicly claims to reject. We talk about oppression and inhumanity in other countries, yet we fail to address our own matter like the use of planes and other torture [methods] that go on right here.”
Youth and students who have played an active role in fighting for a free Palestine also attended. Solidarity with Palestine through Education and Action (SPEAC) at the University of N.C.-Chapel Hill, a group recently formed since the violent attacks on three Palestinian students at Guilford College (see http://www.workers.org/2007/us/nc-0222/), organized for many of its members to attend the event.
Leading SPEAC organizer Salma Mirza said that it is “appalling that he was not acquitted of his charges. … He has never admitted to supporting ‘terrorism.’ It is really outrageous what is happening, yet it is really powerful what Dr. Al-Arian has done with his hunger strike. People have died after day 20. Hunger fasters in South Africa did not last longer than 38 days. Gandhi never fasted more than 21 days. [Dr. Al-Arian] has already lost 25 percent of his body weight, 55 pounds.”
Tyneisha Bowens, member of the Raleigh youth group Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST) said: “It is really powerful that so many people drove out here this morning to Dr. Al-Arian. His case represents a lot that is flawed about our capitalist system and it is important that all stand in solidarity together…We need to continue to bring attention to this case until he is free.”
Background to the case After being traced and followed for over eight years by the federal government for his political perspectives and civil rights activism, Dr. Al-Arian was arrested on Feb. 20, 2003, on charges of supporting terrorism, namely sending financial support to organizations participating in the liberation movement in Palestine. He was subsequently fired from his position as an award-winning tenured professor at the University of Southern Florida.
After being repeatedly denied bail, Dr. Al-Arian and his two co-defendants were almost immediately placed into some of the harshest and inhumane prison conditions possible. They were allowed only one 15-minute phone call per month, allowed visits with immediate family only, were given limited access to attorneys, allowed to change undergarments only once a week, allowed to change prison jumpsuits only once every two weeks and held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. Dr. Al-Arian was allowed only limited medical attention for his diabetes and asthma, was refused any mattress or pillow, subjected to continuous extremely low temperatures in the cell and subjected to strip-searches three times a day even though he is not allowed contact visits.
These conditions have persisted the entire four years of his imprisonment.
In a letter this February to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Amnesty International pleaded that “The conditions under which Dr. Al-Arian has been detained both during his pre-trial detention, and since his sentencing, appear to be unacceptably harsh and punitive, contrary to the standards cited above. International standards discourage the use of prolonged cellular or solitary confinement and provide that prisoners must have access to adequate sanitation, clothing, fresh air and exercise. … We are concerned by evidence suggesting that some of the harsh treatment, including alleged abuses by guards, has been based, at least in part, on his political background.”
Following a ten-year investigation and a six-month trial in which the government was afforded every opportunity to present its case and spend some $80 million, the jury still was unable to find him guilty of the charges against him. Over 80 witnesses, hundreds of hours of taped conversations, and thousands of pages of documents were presented, all of which led jurors to the same conclusion: The government failed to produce any evidence to support its charges.
Dr. Al-Arian was found innocent of eight of the 16 charges against him, while jurors disagreed on the remaining charges by a count of 10 to 2 favoring his full acquittal. Two others in the case, Ghassan Ballut and Sameeh Hammoudeh, were acquitted of all charges, dealing a final blow to the government’s theory in the case.
In Dec. 2005, Dr. Al-Arian was acquitted of all his charges, yet the federal government has kept him in jail in hopes of retrying him. In exchange for Dr. Al-Arian’s plea on one of the lesser charges, the government had agreed to drop all remaining charges and expedite his release and voluntary departure to another country.
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