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Still behind bars on trumped-up charges
Al-Arian collapses during hunger strike

By Nicole Colson | February 23, 2007 | Page 2

ONE OF the most prominent victims of the federal government's witch-hunt of Arabs and Muslims was found collapsed in his prison cell February 14, after more than three weeks on hunger strike.

Dr. Sami Al-Arian, a former University of South Florida professor, has spent the last four years behind bars on trumped-up charges that he aided terrorism--despite a Florida jury last year acquitting him or deadlocking on every charge the government brought against him.

Al-Arian has refused all food since January 22 in protest of his indefinite detention and poor prison conditions. He lost 30 pounds or more, and his deteriorating health has now prompted his transfer to a Bureau of Prisons medical facility in North Carolina.

With prosecutors threatening to retry him following his trial last year, Al-Arian agreed to plead guilty to a single count of providing material support for the nonviolent activities of a Palestinian charity. He was supposed to get a small additional sentence, to be followed by voluntary deportation.

Instead, in January, nearly a year after his acquittal, a judge found him guilty of contempt charges for a second time, and extended his sentence again for refusing to testify in another case--despite the fact that his plea agreement specifically released him from future demands that he testify.

Highlighting his poor treatment in prison, Amnesty International recently sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, saying that Al-Arian has been housed in "unsanitary conditions with exposure to rats."

"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," the letter continued. "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."

As Al-Arian himself described in a February 6 interview with Amy Goodman of the radio program Democracy Now! "[I]n the past nine months, I've been to nine different prisons...I was sent to Atlanta for a couple of weeks, again under 23-hour lockdown, in a very small cell, with two or three people and with a roach- and rat-infested environment. You know, the rat actually ate my diabetic snack one night."

Al-Arian now faces the renewal of the contempt charge possibly twice more--and after that, he could be charged with criminal contempt, which would allow the government to extend his sentence indefinitely.

But as he told Goodman, explaining his hunger strike, "I believe that freedom and human dignity are more precious than life itself. In essence, I'm taking a principled stand, that I'm willing to endure whatever it takes to win my freedom."

For more information on the case and what you can do to help, visit Request that Dr. Sami Al-Arian be released from detention and allowed to leave the country with his family. Contact the Honorable Judge Gerald Lee, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, 401 Courthouse Square, Alexandria, VA 22314.

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