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ANHRI urges government to end prosecution of Palestinian-American professor, believes he is being targeted for expressing his opinion

(ANHRI/IFEX) - The following is a 16 July 2008 ANHRI press release:

ANHRI urges US government to end its prosecution of Palestinian-American professor imprisoned since 2003

ANHRI urges the government of the United States to end its prosecution and targeting of Sami Al-Arian, a Palestinian-American activist and professor who has been in jail since 2003. On 11 July 2008, a court ordered that Al-Arian be released on bail. He was acquitted in 2005 of charges of "supporting terrorism", filed against him in 2003. However, the government has indicated it may block his release on bail by having immigration officials hold him for deportation. Throughout the proceedings, the main evidence used against him has been his writings and lectures on the plight of Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Al-Arian, an American national of Palestinian origin, had worked as an award-winning professor at South Florida University. He actively wrote and lectured on the hardships endured by the Palestinian population. However, former U.S. Minister of Justice John Ashcroft, who is considered extremely hostile to Arabs by some observers, relentlessly pursued criminal charges against Al-Arian.

In 2003, Al-Arian was indicted on fabricated charges in retaliation for having peacefully expressed his opinions. Al-Arian was imprisoned for five years, during which he suffered serious mistreatment at the hands of the authorities.

In December 2005, after legal proceedings that cost the U.S. authorities over $50 million and apparently involved intercepting 400 telephone calls, the jury acquitted Al-Arian on eight of the 17 counts against him. On the remaining (lesser) charges, jurors voted 10 to 2 for acquittal. Usually a 10 to 2 vote in favor of acquittal does not result in a call for a retrial.

Not wanting to remain imprisoned or face a lengthy retrial, and believing that the judge was biased against him, Al-Arian agreed to plead guilty to one of the remaining charges in exchange for a sentence of deportation, with the verbal understanding that he would not have to testify in any other cases. Thus, Al-Arian pleaded guilty to a single count of providing services to people associated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, specifically the following activities: hiring a lawyer for his brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar, during his deportation hearing in the late 1990s; filling out immigration forms for a resident Palestinian scholar from Britain; and not disclosing details of associations to a local journalist.

The prosecution apparently acknowledged during the trial that there is no evidence linking Al-Arian to any violent acts in Israel or Palestine. Key evidence in the case was allegedly destroyed by federal authorities.

Several reputable commentators, including analyst Robert Fisk of the UK-based newspaper "Independent", believe Al-Arian has been persecuted for expressing his opinions ( see: ).

Amnesty International (AI) has observed that the jury examining his case found no link between Al-Arian's fundraising activities in support of Palestinians and alleged knowledge of or intent to commit acts of violence ( see: ). AI also noted that his prison conditions were "gratuitously punitive" ( see: ).

The U.S. government agreed in the plea bargain that Al-Arian would not be called on to testify against others. Despite the agreement, he was called before a grand jury a third time and charged with "contempt of court" when he refused to testify or provide information that might be used to fabricate charges against others. His refusal to testify resulted in an 11-month sentence for contempt of court. His lawyers fear that the attempt to force him to testify is an attempt to trap him into committing perjury, given his reluctance to testify against others. A conviction for perjury would prolong his incarceration.

For most of Al-Arian's 11-month sentence for contempt the government claimed that there was no country willing to receive him. Al-Arian countered this argument during the bail hearing, stating that the government was aware of the fact that both Egypt and the Palestinian Authority were willing to receive him, despite attempts by the American government to deter them from doing so.

ANHRI believes that "Al-Arian should never have been arrested or detained in the first place, since his main 'crime' was expressing his opinions. He is one of a growing group of Palestinian and Arab Americans who are being targeted for challenging the U.S. policies in the Middle East, and who deserve support."

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