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Judge keeps Al-Arian behind bars

By Nicole Colson | July 6, 2007 | Page 11

A FEDERAL judge has decided to continue the imprisonment of former University of South Florida professor and Palestinian rights supporter Sami Al-Arian on trumped-up contempt charges.

Al-Arian has been imprisoned since 2003, when he was accused by the government of using an academic think tank and Muslim charity and school to "materially aid" terrorism. In 2005, a jury voted to acquit or deadlocked on every charge against Al-Arian. But the government refused to release Al-Arian.

He later took a plea deal on a single count of the least serious charge against him in exchange for what was supposed to be a short additional sentence, to be followed by voluntary deportation. The Feds reneged on the deal, saying that Al-Arian should be compelled to testify in another "terrorism-related" case in Virginia, even though his plea agreement specifically exempted him from this.

For his refusal to testify, Al-Arian last year was found to be in contempt of court, and given an 18-month sentence--which the government vowed it would drop only when he agreed to testify.

In a closed hearing last month, U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Lee upheld the contempt sentence and ordered Al-Arian to be held until at least October.

What else to read

For more information on the case and what you can do to help, see the Free Sami Al-Arian Web site.

To protest Al-Arian's continued imprisonment, write to: Honorable Judge Gerald Lee, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, 401 Courthouse Square, Alexandria, VA 22314.


According to the Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace (TBCJP), which organizes support for Al-Arian, Lee rejected the government's argument that Al-Arian must automatically spend the full 18 months in jail. Rather than order his release, however, Lee ruled that given Al-Arian's strong ties to his family, the contempt sentence may still coerce him to speak in order to be reunited with them.

"In fact, Dr. Al-Arian's desire to rejoin his family is exactly the reason he will not testify, because he believes doing so is a road to entrapment, future prosecutions and many more years of unjust incarceration," the TBCJP said in a statement.

Lee did agree, however, that if he finds further incarceration won't compel testimony, Al-Arian should be set free from civil contempt.

In the meantime, the suffering of Al-Arian and his family continues. During his time in prison, Al-Arian has been forced to endure unsanitary conditions, lack of proper medical care, and racist verbal and physical abuse at the hands of prison guards who call him a "terrorist."

During a 60-day hunger strike earlier this year to protest his indefinite detention, Al-Arian received little medical attention, even as his health rapidly deteriorated. In April, a guard reportedly told Al-Arian that he'd like to "put a bullet in [his] head and get it done with."

Meanwhile, because of the hardship of the trial and its aftermath, Al-Arian's wife Nahla is now planning to take their two youngest children and move to Egypt--even as Al-Arian remains in prison.

As defense attorney Jonathan Turley said, "Dr. Al-Arian has now been imprisoned for five years despite the fact that he was never convicted of any count in the Florida trial. He has been confined for six months and two grand juries. It was always obvious that he would not yield to these coercive measures and that the real purpose of the government is to punish a man who they could not convict in a court of law."

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