Palestinian professor free at last (9/4)
September 4, 2008
The Daily Times
By Khalid Hasan
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WASHINGTON: Dr Sami Al-Arian, the Palestinian professor who has been in jail for five years on what many view as concocted terrorism-related charges, has been set free on bail.
Welcoming the news of his release Dr Agha Saeed, chairman American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections, who has campaigned vigorously for Al-Arian’s release, said, “This is an important step toward restoration of due process and equal justice for all.”
Al-Arian, a nationally recognised activist for American civil rights and Palestine, was arrested in February 2003 on charges of terrorism. His arrest and subsequent trial became the first major test case for the sweeping Patriot Act. The trial featured 80 government witnesses (including 21 from Israel, plus 400 intercepted phone calls, the result of a decade of surveillance, and half a million recorded calls.
One bit of evidence consisted of a conversation a co-defendant had had with Al-Arian in his dream. In December 2005, after 10 years of federal investigation and a six-month trial, which cost the taxpayers $50 million, a Florida jury refused to return a single guilty verdict against Al-Arian. In a two-page article about Al-Arian, Time magazine reported that years of FBI investigation offered “no real links between Al-Arian and terrorist acts”.
In May 2006, the Justice Department agreed that al Arian should be released within 30 days, and further agreed to assist in his voluntary departure from the country without other conditions, in exchange for a guilty plea to one non-violent offence. Nevertheless, in a clear violation of these terms, Al-Arian has been called to testify in an unrelated trial three times. In June this year, Al-Arian was formally charged with criminal contempt of court for his refusal to testify. A federal judge postponed the contempt trial until the Supreme Court addresses dispose of an appeal the Palestinian professor has lodged with it.
Civil liberty groups all over the world have long called for Al-Arian’s release, whose trial will be resumed in December.