US indicts Palestinian detainee Al-Arian

On June 26, Palestinian professor Sami Al-Arian was charged in US District Court in Alexandria, Va., with two counts of criminal contempt for refusing to testify before a grand jury which is investigating whether Islamic charities in northern Virginia were financing terrorists. Al-Arian has already been jailed for a year on civil contempt charges for refusing to testify. If convicted of the new charge he could face additional jail time; there is no maximum or minimum penalty for criminal contempt. Al-Arian has been jailed by the federal government since Feb. 20, 2003, and in ICE custody since April 11 of this year; he suspended a 52-day hunger strike on April 23 in the hopes of being deported soon.

Lawrence Barcella, a former federal prosecutor who is now a Washington lawyer, said civil contempt is generally used to compel people to testify in investigations, and criminal contempt is designed to punish them if they have refused. He said it is “not unheard of but very unique” to seek criminal charges when a defendant has already served time for civil contempt.

Al-Arian’s attorney, Jonathan Turley, said his client has given prosecutors two detailed affidavits saying that he knows of no criminal activity involving the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT)—one of the agencies under investigation in northern Virginia, which prosecutors apparently believe Al-Arian has ties to—and that the government has acknowledged he is a “minor witness.” Turley said the latest indictment “is a continuation of a long campaign of abuse that has drawn international criticism.” (Washington Post, June 27)

On June 30, Al-Arian was arraigned before the federal court of Judge Leonie Brinkema. Brinkema set a deadline of Aug. 8 for all pretrial motions, and a trial date of Aug. 13, although defense attorneys had requested it be set for September. Al-Arian was also ordered moved to the Alexandria Detention Center while awaiting trial. The June 30 hearing was delayed for four hours because Al-Arian had to be transported from Portsmouth, Virginia, over 200 miles away. Turley requested that his client be released on bond. Brinkema said she would consider releasing Al-Arian on bond, pending his interview with pre-trial services and a bond hearing that has yet to be scheduled. (Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace news release, June 2)

For background information, updates and action alerts about Sami Al-Arian’s case, see:

From Immigration News Briefs, July 5

See our last posts on Sami Al-Arian and the politics of immigration.