Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace
March 3, 2008
Dr. Al-Arian Begins Hunger Strike
ALEXANDRIA, VA.– On Monday, March 3, 2008, Dr. Sami Al-Arian began a hunger strike for justice to protest continued government harassment. Earlier in the day, Dr. Al-Arian was informed that he would be called to testify before a third grand jury in Virginia, only weeks before his scheduled release date. Under his plea agreement, Dr. Al-Arian should have been released last April at the latest. However, because he has not testified, his sentence was suspended as he served one year on civil contempt. Dr. Al-Arian’s current release date is April 7, but it will likely be pushed back indefinitely when he is called before a grand jury sometime in the coming weeks.
Dr. Al-Arian’s attorneys argue that forcing him to testify is a clear violation of the plea agreement he reached with the government in the spring of 2006. Further, Dr. Al-Arian has been advised that the grand jury subpoena is a ploy by Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg to ensnare him in a perjury trap, as he has done to at least one another Muslim defendant.
The idea that Dr. Al-Arian could avoid a perjury charge by simply testifying truthfully is “naïve,” his attorney Jonathan Turley told the Tampa Tribune. “If the government wants to charge your client with perjury, it is almost certain to be able to do so by asking enough questions over the course of the proceeding.”
This is the third hunger strike undertaken by Dr. Al-Arian, who is diabetic, during his five year incarceration. After his arrest on February 20, 2003, he went on a 140-day liquid only hunger strike to protest the government’s political persecution. During that time, he was hospitalized and lost 45 pounds. On January 22, 2007, Dr. Al-Arian was held in civil contempt for not testifying before a grand jury. He went on a 60-day water-only hunger strike in which he lost 55 pounds, was hospitalized and confined to a wheelchair.
“The mistreatment of Dr. Al-Arian is part of the overall oppression of the Palestinian people. This is cruel punishment,” said Agha Saeed, chair of the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections (AMT). “The government is playing a cat and mouse game with him. They did not decide to do this until the last minute, just as he’s about to be released. This amounts to psychological torture.”
With only one month remaining until Dr. Al-Arian’s scheduled release, the government is threatening to keep him imprisoned for many years, through its continuous abuse of the grand jury system. Furthermore, as Dr. Al-Arian embarks on yet another hunger strike, the government must either release him as promised or be responsible for his life.