US trial postponed for Palestinian professor

On Aug. 8 in Alexandria, Va., US District Judge Leonie Brinkema postponed the trial of Florida professor Sami Al-Arian indefinitely. Al-Arian was charged on June 26 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. The trial, originally scheduled for Aug. 13, will now be delayed until the Supreme Court addresses an appeal submitted by Al-Arian’s attorneys, challenging the legality of the federal subpoena which led to the contempt charges. (Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace, Aug. 9; AP, Aug. 8)

At a bond hearing on July 10, Brinkema ordered Al-Arian released on bail; the judge expressed concern about the government’s maneuvers to keep him in custody despite a 2006 plea agreement with prosecutors that requires his speedy deportation. “There’s some strange signals coming out of this case,” Brinkema said. “I expect the Department of Justice to live up to its agreements.” (AP, July 10)

Instead of releasing Al-Arian on bond, the federal government transferred him into immigration custody, claiming he would be held pending deportation. Al-Arian was then transferred from Alexandria to the Pamunkey Regional Jail in Hanover, Va., where he was subjected to punitive conditions including solitary confinement. From there, Al-Arian was taken to the ICE office in Fairfax. When ICE agents tried to return him to Pamunkey, jail officials there refused to accept him because the facility had received so many telephone calls from Al-Arian supporters protesting his treatment. ICE agents then took Al-Arian to the Hampton Roads Regional Jail, 100 miles from his family and attorneys in Washington. Following further protests, Al-Arian was finally returned to the Alexandria Detention Center in advance of the Aug. 8 hearing. (Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace, Aug. 6)

From Immigration News Briefs, Aug. 16

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