Al-Arian ends hunger strike

05/01/08 Seán Kinane
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Former USF engineering professor Dr. Sami Al-Arian suspended his most recent hunger strike on Monday and has since been moved from solitary confinement to the general population of the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Al-Arian has been in jail for more than five years; he completed his sentence last month yet he remains in jail awaiting the deportation called for in his plea agreement, said Mel Underbakke, who is with Friends of Human Rights.

Al-Arian ended his hunger strike on Monday. Prior to that, Underbakke said Al-Arian was being abused by the jail and was originally put in solitary confinement because the jail incorrectly considered him to be a suicide risk.

Al-Arian began his hunger strike on March 3 after learning that he had been called to testify before a grand jury in Virginia. It was the third time he has been called before a grand jury in a case. Al-Arian’s attorneys have said that he will not testify because it violates his plea agreement and it is a perjury trap by the government. Al-Arian’s eldest daughter, freelance journalist Laila Al-Arian, said that her father is being held in Immigrations and Customs Enforcement ( ICE) custody without charge.

Pat Reilly, a spokesperson for ICE, confirmed that Sami Al-Arian was transferred from the Bureau of Prisons to ICE custody when his sentence was completed on April 11. She did not know how long ICE would hold Al-Arian before he is deported.

Because Al-Arian is Palestinian, he has no country and no travel documents. But Reilly said that it usually is possible to deport people to Palestine.

On Wednesday night about 40 people filled the outdoor patio of the Café Bohemia in downtown St. Petersburg to see the documentary film USA vs. Al-Arian. The standing-room-only film screening on Wednesday was sponsored by St. Pete for Peace and Friends of Human Rights. (Full disclosure: this reporter used to be a member of Friends of Human Rights.)

Last month, Mel Underbakke took the film on a nationwide tour and said Wednesday’s screening was the kickoff of a second nationwide tour.

Al-Arian was arrested on Feb. 20, 2003, one month before the United States invaded Iraq.

Sami Al-Arian says his imprisonment has been political.

WMNF attempted to speak with the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the Department of Homeland Security, and with the Hampton Roads Regional Jail, to find out why Al-Arian is still being detained and when he will be deported but they did not return our phone calls by air time.

Maher Al-Barghuthi is a Palestinian who moved to the U.S. from Ramallah in the West Bank 12 years ago. He said that the kind of injustice that has happened to Al-Arian would not even happen in the third world.

Next week the documentary will be broadcast in the United States for the first time. It will air three times on the television channel Link TV beginning Sunday, May 4.

Learn more:

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

USA vs. Al-Arian

St. Pete For Peace

Free Sami Al-Arian

Link TV showing of USA vs. Al-Arian

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