Adonis Diaries

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Did you Defeat Controversial Terrorism Charges? Expect to be deported anyway

In 2003, Sami Al-Arian was a professor at the University of South Florida, a legal resident of the U.S. since 1975, and one of the most prominent Palestinian civil rights activists in the U.S.

That year, the course of his life was altered irrevocably when he was indicted on highly controversial terrorism charges by then Attorney General John AshcroftThese charges commenced a decade-long campaign of government persecution in which Al-Arian was systematically denied his freedom and saw his personal and professional life effectively destroyed.

Featured photo - Exclusive Interview: Sami Al-Arian, Professor Who Defeated Controversial Terrorism Charges, is Deported from U.S.

In 2003, Sami Al-Arian was a professor at the University of South Florida.

Exclusive Interview: Sami Al-Arian, Professor Who Defeated Controversial Terrorism Charges, is Deported from U.S.

Despite the personal harm he suffered and the intense surveillance to which he had been subjected since as early as 1993, the government ultimately failed to produce any evidence of Al-Arian’s involvement in terrorist activities, instead relying at trial overwhelmingly on the pro-Palestinian writing and speaking he had done over the years.

His ordeal finally ended last night, 12 years after it began, as Al-Arian was deported yesterday at midnight (EST) from the United States to Turkey.

His deportation was part of a 2006 plea bargain to which he acquiesced in order, he told The Intercept last night while at the airport preparing to leave the U.S., to “conclude his case and bring an end to his family’s suffering.” Al-Arian added: “I came to the United States for freedom, but 4 decades later, I am leaving to gain my freedom.”

A 2003 Justice Department investigation led by Ashcroft allegedly implicated Al-Arian and 8 other men in supporting Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a group which had been designated a terrorist organization under the Clinton administration for carrying out bombings and other attacks in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian Territories.

Ironically, Al-Arian had been a prominent supporter of Clinton, and even met Clinton in the White House. He once remarked to The Intercepthat the multiple occasions when he stood in very close proximity to the U.S. President should, by itself, demonstrate how ludicrous were the “terrorist” allegations. 

In 2000, he supported the Bush campaign (after Bush denounced racial profiling).

Al-Arian, while a Professor at the University of South Florida, was indicted on multiple counts of providing “material support” to the group and fundraising on their behalf in the United States. In the press conference announcing the indictment, Ashcroft claimed that Al-Arian and his co-defendants “financed, extolled and assisted acts of terror,” and praised the recently passed Patriot Act as being instrumental to helping bring about the charges.

The charges were part of a broader post-9/11 campaign to by the U.S. Government to criminalize aid and support to Palestinians, as exemplified by the successful prosecution of five officials of what had been the largest Muslim charity in the U.S., the Holy Land Foundation.

Those charity officials are now serving decades in prison for sending money to Palestinians which, it was alleged, made its way to designated terror groups in the Occupied Territories.

For most of the three years after his arrest, Al-Arian was kept in solitary confinement awaiting trial. During this time, he was regularly subjected to strip-searches, denied normal visitation rights with his family, and allegedly abused by prison staff.

Amnesty International denounced the circumstances of his detention as “gratuitously punitive” and in violation of international standards on the treatment of prisoners.

When Al-Arian’s case did finally reach trial after years of harsh imprisonment, prosecutors failed to convict Al-Arian on even one charge brought against him. Jurors voted to acquit him on the most serious counts he faced and deadlocked on the remainder of the indictments.

The outcome was hugely embarrassing for the U.S. Government. Despite having amassed over 20,000 hours of phone conversations and hundreds of fax messages from over a decade of surveilling Al-Arian, the DOJ – even with all the advantages they enjoyed in terrorism cases in 2003 (and continue to enjoy today) – was unable to convince a jury Al-Arian was the arch-terrorist they had very publicly proclaimed him to be.

Indeed, instead of producing evidence that Al-Arian was involved in actual “terrorism,” the government attempted to use as evidence copies of books and magazines Al-Arian had owned in a failed effort to convince the jury to convict him of apparent thought crimes.

This effort failed and a jury ruled to acquit Al-Arian on 8 out of 17 charges while failing to come to a verdict on the remainder.

Al-Arian agreed to a plea bargain on the remaining charges by pleading guilty to one count of providing “contributions, goods or services” to PIJ, a decision he says he undertook out of a desire to end the government’s ongoing persecution of him and win his release from prison. 

Despite this plea, Al-Arian was not released from prison.

Instead, in 2007, shortly before he expected to leave jail and begin likely deportation proceedings, the government brought a new set of charges against him for refusing to testify in another trial against a Virginia-based Islamic think tank.

Among several reasons he provided for refusing to testify against the group, he stated his belief that the organization was innocent of terrorism charges and, according to his lawyer, Jonathan Turley, “he doesn’t want them to be persecuted the way he was.” His lawyers also worried that any testimony he gave in that other case would allow the DOJ to bring wholly new charges against him for perjury.

For his refusal to testify, Al-Arian was sentenced to an additional 18 months in prison on civil contempt charges, the maximum allowed by law. Al-Arian served this added time only to be charged at the end of his sentence once again with additional criminal contempt charges stemming from the same case.

In Al-Arian’s description, these charges were in contravention of the plea deal he had previously agreed to with the government. As he told The Intercept, “They reneged on their end of the deal when they brought me to Virginia to try to force me to testify in another, unrelated case. It was a perjury trap. I refused to testify, so they charged me with criminal contempt.”

During the course of his imprisonment Al-Arian undertook a hunger strike to protest his ongoing persecution, losing 53 pounds in the process and being reduced to a state in which he was no longer able to walk or speak in a normal cadence.

In court appearances, observers were shocked by his physical appearance, with representatives from the U.S. Marshals Service publicly vowing to subject him to force-feeding if his hunger strike if his condition continued to visibly deteriorate.

After his indictment for criminal contempt, a federal judge eventually ordered that Al-Arian to spend the duration of the court proceedings under house arrest. But the judge then proceeded to hold, rather than rule on, his motion to dismiss the indictment, freezing the case in place for years as he was consigned to house arrest. 

There he languished, confined to his small family apartment as his court case took years to work its way through the system.

In 2014, the federal government quietly and unceremoniously dropped all of their charges against Al-Arian. After 11 years of persecution which left his once-promising career in academia and public advocacy in shambles, Al-Arian was “free” to be deported from the country where he had spent 40 years of his life and raised his family. As a stateless Palestinian, he was forced to find another country where he could go, and ultimately was able to leave for Turkey, where he was expected to arrive today.

Speaking to The Intercept, Al-Arian said that he harbored no resentment despite his ordeal and that he now feels “at peace” with the conclusion of his legal ordeal.

Describing his visceral, firsthand experience of America’s eroding democratic values Al-Arian said, “I came to the United States because I valued living as a free person, one who is able to advocate in a democratic society. Unfortunately, the U.S. has been turning into a less free society, a police and surveillance state, especially after 9/11.”

However, I’m very encouraged by the millions of Americans who are pushing back against the forces of intolerance and exclusionary politics. I leave hopeful that the tide is turning because as history has seen, when the truth is made known to them, Americans do not support oppression and discrimination.”

 

From Syria to Sweden: The story of Stateless Syrian Palestinian in search for Identity

More than 2.8 million Syrians have been forced to leave their country so far. The vast majority of them remaining in neighboring countries, such as Turkey (764,000), Lebanon (1,093,069) and Jordan (597,328), according to the UN Refugee Agency. 

They are often living in dire conditions because countries like Lebanon and Jordan are already under extreme economic and political strain. Few others went seeking refuge in Europe.

However, Europe has only granted asylum to 89,000 people. Though Europe is failing refugees from Syria , Sweden is one of the few European countries to offer permanent residence to Syrians arriving at its borders.

Salim Salamah, found refuge in Sweden after fleeing Syria to Lebanon. I met Salim a few weeks ago in Malmo, the most densely populated area in Scandinavia, but he wasn’t a mere Syrian refugee.

While he was introducing himself, he was not sure if he should say a “Syrian-Palestinian”, “Palestinian from Syria”, “refugee in Sweden”, becoming “Swedish” or maybe just a human being!

As I was confidently introducing myself as a Tunisian African and explaining more about my Africanism, he smiled and replied: “I like that you clearly know who you are because I am still in search for my identity”.

This complex identity of Salim dates back to his family’s displacement in 1948 following the Nakba that expelled Palestinians from their homes.

He was born in 1989 and raised in Yarmouk refugee camp (by Damascus), a historical Palestinian neighborhood established in Damascus during the 50s.

At the age of 24, Salim found himself a refugee “again” and as he says “the journey continues…”

 

Images and dates have been engraved in his memory because of their atrocities… “28th October 2013 I left Syria…Taking that decision wasn’t easy! Because there will be no soon return to Damascus”.

Getting into severe depression during his last few weeks in Syria, he was afraid of loosing himself by “not doing any good” for himself or his country.

A decision has been made because of the suffocation of a peaceful movement yearned for freedom. “From March to September, the movement was pacifist then the security became so tight that we couldn’t move around anymore…people had to fire back and when that happened, I couldn’t have a place for myself there! because I didn’t want to die or kill”.

Life in Damascus has become a nightmare for him with the checkpoints…“Day after day, moving within and outside Yarmouk has become difficult as between two checkpoints, there is another one, so you will never know who will stop you and when you will be arrested! It was just like jumping into the fire”.

The regime then operated an organized process to get rid of activists like Salim, by arresting, torturing or constantly threatening them.   “It was a slow death of the civil resistance and peaceful social movement, I was at risk as everybody was!”

Beside demonstrating, campaigning, and being part of political gatherings, Salim’s special crime was blogging and telling jokes about the Syrian army. His poem “A day in Damascus”, says “passing by the checkpoint, I spit on it to return some of my dignity” and that was accused by the Syrian authorities as undermining the “prestige of the state”.

Once in Beirut for almost four months, Salim tried to recover from war trauma and reconnect again… “breathe again” by writing poetry. Despite dealing with his own healing process, Salim was managing a project with Al Ghawth organization in Syria. “Unfortunately the project ended after few months because we didn’t get the needed funding as international donors and NGOs were not interested in finding partners to respond to the urgent need of Syrian communities and kids under war but more interested to enslave organizations for their own agendas”

Travelled for the first time in his entire life outside Syria and Lebanon, he finally arrived to Sweden on 14th February 2012.

“When I arrived, I was surprised with the snow and the dark short days”. It took sometime for him to adapt to the new weather, language, space, currency, lifestyle and to understand  “the strange situation” in order to find his way in the new place.(It would be good for Salim to read the new book of Alexander Najjar “Millesgarten” about his journey in Sweden)

Despite the terrible situation in Syria, there is an ongoing debate about the legitimacy of the choice of activists who fled the country to seek refuge in the United States and Scandinavia.

Salim has clearly made this choice as an “individual salvation”… “I claimed political asylum because I can’t basically go anywhere as Palestinian from Syria but I made it to Sweden because I was just lucky!”

It is indeed a special case for the Palestinians from Syria.

When the UN adopted the Refugee Convention and established the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, it excluded those falling within the UNRWA mandate from coverage under UNHCR’s mandate.

“Outside UNRWA-mandate area, which is Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, or the West Bank and Gaza Strip, we are without protection”.

A concrete example of Salim’s frustration is the recent case of the four Palestinian Syrian activists detained in Sri Lanka a few weeks ago. “UNHCR Sri Lanka refused to give a statement on the issue. Husam, Muhammad, Ali and Baha are now at Buddha military prison where they have been badly treated psychologically and physically”.

Recently, Palestinians fleeing Syria are denied help even in Lebanon. 

Sadly, the tragic cases of Palestinian-Syrian refugees continue, not only in the global north, but even in the Arab region and especially in countries that sparked the revolutions in the region such as TunisiaEgypt among other countries.. “in Damascus, we were celebrating the day Ben Ali fled Tunisia, today when Syrian Palestinians arrived to Tunis, they remained stuck in Carthage airport with no support”…

As the spokesman of the Human Rights Palestinian LeagueSalim closely follows these cases and releases statements to support Syrian Palestinians without national or international protectionHaving the advantage to understand better such situation, Salim found himself working with refugees though he aims to work more with youth and children.

Beside joining the executive board of the Human Rights Palestinian League earlier this year, he helps a Swedish organization in group development of coming refugees, especially in terms of communication with Arabic and French speaking refugees from Syria and African countries.

“I’m still sad, frustrated… because of this ongoing war that is rewarding to international community powers and Syrian regime rather than the Syrian people but working with people here is also rewarding …”

Partially recovered from the war trauma …  Salim regained his life, strength and energy and he is moving forward in empowering himself and others.  

I contacted Salim again today to ask him of what the World Refugees Day would mean to him as a refugee. He immediately answered “you know… once you are a refugee, you are a refugee forever, at least for myself”.

He then took some silent moments and recalled the quotes of his friend Homi Bhabha

“the globe shrinks for those who own it… but for the displaced or dispossessed, the migrant or refugee, no distance is more awesome than the few feet across borders or frontiers” … then he continues “Today I achieved my few feet, and if I can make one more human being achieve those few feet, I will help!”

Having his family arrived to Sweden 6 months ago, Salim now feels more safe, something he hasn’t felt for a while. Still hard for him to be disconnected “twice” from where he belongs… then to be asked to belong somewhere else…

I don’t identify myself as a citizen of any place…” at least his confusion has gone since our first conversation a month ago and now he can confidently identity himself as human being or citizen of the world…

 

 


adonis49

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