On March 3, jailed Palestinian professor Sami Al-Arian was informed that he would be called to testify before a grand jury in Virginia which is investigating allegations that Muslim charities aided terrorism organizations. Al-Arian responded by starting a hunger strike the same day, refusing all food and water. On March 20, Al-Arian appeared before the grand jury and declined to testify. Later on March 20 Al-Arian began drinking water, but he continues to fast at the Northern Neck Regional jail in Warsaw, Va. (On March 12 he was transferred to a medical prison in Butner, NC, but on March 18 he was returned to the Warsaw jail.) Over the course of this latest hunger strike Al-Arian, who is diabetic, has lost 30 pounds; he has not been offered an IV or treatment for any of his symptoms, including chest pains, severe dehydration and headaches.
This is Al-Arian’s third hunger strike since he was arrested on Feb. 20, 2003, on charges of conspiracy to aid the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Following his arrest, Al-Arian went on a liquid-only hunger strike that lasted 140 days. He was hospitalized and lost 45 pounds. On Jan. 22, 2007, after being held in civil contempt for not testifying before a grand jury, Al-Arian went on a water-only hunger strike for 60 days. He lost 55 pounds, was hospitalized and was confined to a wheelchair.
On Dec. 6, 2005, a jury acquitted Al-Arian of eight charges and deadlocked 10-2 for acquittal on another nine charges. When the government threatened to retry him on the remaining counts, Al-Arian pleaded guilty on April 14, 2006, to a single count of conspiracy to “make or receive funds… for the benefit of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” In May 2006 Judge James S. Moody Jr. of Federal District Court in Tampa sentenced Al-Arian to 57 months in prison with credit for time served. The plea agreement was based on the understanding that the government would not seek his testimony in future terrorism cases, and that he would be deported as soon as his term was up.
Al-Arian is declining to testify before the grand juries because he doesn’t want anyone “to be persecuted the way he was,” said Jonathan Turley, his attorney. Under his original plea agreement, Al-Arian was due to be released in April 2007, but he served an additional year for refusing to testify before the grand jury in January 2007. Just as Al-Arian was due to be released on April 7 of this year, the government again brought him before a grand jury, knowing he would refuse to testify. “You have a great injustice being perpetrated by the Justice Department,” said Turley. “They’ve daisy-chained three grand jury investigations to prolong his incarceration.”
Al-Arian’s supporters are concerned that the grand jury subpoena is an attempt by Assistant US Attorney Gordon Kromberg to ensnare Al-Arian in a perjury trap. According to Al-Arian’s daughter, Laila Al-Arian, Kromberg “has made on-the-record anti-Muslim statements; he said he doesn’t want to assist in the, quote, ‘Islamization of America and of he American justice system.'”
For information on Al-Arian’s case see www.freesamialarian.com, the website of the Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace. (Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace press releases, March 3, 25; Washington Post, March 22; statement from Jonathan Turley, March 22; Democracy Now, March 21 column by attorney Peter Erlinder in Jurist, March 11)
From Immigration News Briefs, March 29