Palestinian political prisoner loses federal appeal

On March 23, a three-judge panel of the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Alexandria, Virginia, unanimously affirmed a civil contempt ruling against former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, a Palestinian activist who has refused to testify in front of a federal grand jury investigating Islamic charities in northern Virginia. Al-Arian had argued that a plea agreement in his Florida prosecution exempts him from testifying before the grand jury.

Also on March 23, Al-Arian’s family announced he will suspend his 60-day water-only hunger strike and begin a liquid-only fast. Al-Arian began the hunger strike last Jan. 22 to protest the grand jury subpoena and the contempt citation. He is detained at a medical prison in Butner, North Carolina. (St. Petersburg Times, March 24) Nahla al-Arian said she was able to convince her husband early on March 23 to end his water-only fast. She said he had lost about 53 pounds—about 25% of his body weight—and was too weak to walk. (Daily Press, Hampton Roads, VA, March 23 from AP) Shortly after his arrest in February 2003, Al-Arian carried out a liquids-only fast that lasted 140 days. (Tampa Tribune, Jan 24)

On April 14, 2006, after being detained for more than three years, most of that time in solitary confinement, Al-Arian made a deal with the government, pleading guilty to one count of conspiring to provide support to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in exchange for what was supposed to be a sentence of time served and a speedy deportation. Instead, in May 2006 Judge James S. Moody Jr. of Federal District Court in Tampa sentenced Al-Arian to 57 months in prison—the maximum allowed under sentencing guidelines. Last Nov. 16, Al-Arian was found in civil contempt for refusing to testify before the Virginia grand jury, and Moody extended his prison sentence by an additional 18 months. (SPT, Nov. 17) In January 2007, Amnesty International sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, complaining that Al-Arian has been detained under what appear to be “unacceptably harsh and punitive” conditions. (Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace Press Release, Feb. 13, at

From Immigration News Briefs, March 24

See our last post on the Al-Arian case and the immigration crackdown.