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Sami Al-Arian has been in prison for the past four years. The Palestinian professor and activist was found not guilty over a year ago of 17 charges against him yet he remains in jail and the US government seems unwilling to release him.
Al-Arian’s case has been one of the most closely watched- and controversial – post 9/11 prosecutions in the United States. A respected computer science professor at the University of South Florida, Al-Arian was a leading member of the Muslim community and one of the most prominent Palestinian academics and activists in the US.
In February 2003, he was arrested and accused of being a leader of the militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The Justice Department handed down a sweeping 50-count indictment against him and seven other men, charging them with conspiracy to commit murder, giving material support to terrorists, extortion, perjury, and other offenses.
At the end of the trial in December 2005, the jury failed to return a single guilty verdict. Al Arian was acquitted on eight of seventeen counts against him and the jury deadlocked on the rest. Four months after the verdict, he agreed to plead guilty to one of the remaining charges in exchange for being released and deported. At his sentencing, the judge gave Al-Arian as much prison time as possible under a plea deal – 57 months. His release date was set for April 2007.
But just over two weeks ago, a judge found him in contempt for refusing a second time to testify before a grand jury in Virginia in a case involving a Muslim think tank. The date of his release could now be extended by as much as 18 months because of the ruling. Al-Arian, who is a diabetic, began a hunger strike in response.
In the four years since his arrest, Sami Al-Arian has never conducted a broadcast interview – until now. In a Democracy Now exclusive, we spoke with Sami Al-Arian from prison. He called us yesterday from the Northern Neck Regional Jail in Warsaw, Virginia. He began by describing where he was being held.