Judge overturns Al-Arian contempt charge

12/14/07 Seán Kinane
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Yesterday, a federal judge in Virginia lifted the civil contempt charge that has kept former USF professor Sami Al-Arian in prison for months after he was supposed to be released.

Judge Gerald Lee has been holding status hearings every few months during the last year in Alexandria Virginia, to determine whether Al-Arian should continue to be held on civil contempt for not testifying before a grand jury. Today, WMNF spoke with Abdullah Al-Arian, the eldest son of Dr. Sami Al-Arian, who said Judge Lee did not give any indication why civil contempt was lifted.

Prosecutors in Virginia have tried to get Dr. Al-Arian to testify before two grand juries. The term of the first grand jury expired with no indictments, and a similar fate is likely to occur as the term of the second grand jury draws to a close. But, according to Abdullah Al-Arian, he doesn’t know if the government will try again.

Two years ago, Al-Arian was found not guilty on eight counts and the jury deadlocked on the remaining nine counts, in most cases 10 to 2 in favor of acquittal. Rather than face a retrial on those nine counts, he agreed to a deal in which he would plead guilty to one count of nonviolent assistance to associates of a terrorist organization. But, Abdullah Al-Arian said that the government sometimes charges a person they want to keep in jail with criminal contempt of court.

Earlier this year, the judge did not rule on whether Al-Arian’s plea agreement required him to testify, but he sent the decision back to the trial judge, James Moody in Tampa. Al-Arian’s attorneys have appealed that decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Atlanta. The hearing was in September, but the 11th Circuit is still deliberating.

Abdullah Al-Arian says that depending on how the 11th Circuit rules, it is possible that Lee might order Al-Arian to be released and deported immediately.

Warren Clark is pastor of First United Church, UCC, of Tampa and said his congregation has been working and praying for justice in the case of Dr. Al-Arian.

Clark is a member of Friends of Human Rights, a group that advocates for the civil liberties of Al-Arian and others. In the interest of full disclosure, this reporter used to be a member of Friends of Human Rights. Clark said members of his church are writing letters to try to get justice for Dr. Al-Arian.

WMNF attempted to speak with Al-Arian’s attorney, Jonathan Turley, but he did not return our call by airtime. He released a written statement that read, in part: “We hope that this will be the end of this chapter in the Al-Arian case and that the government will now fulfill its agreement with Dr. Al-Arian. It is our sincere hope that the Justice Department will now accept the decision of the Florida jury and allow Dr. Al-Arian to complete his sentence and re-join his family.”

Learn more:

Blog entry by Al-Arian attorney Jonathan Turley

St. Petersburg Times article

New York Sun articl

Free Sami Al-Arian

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