TAMPA, Fla. – On the basis of secret evidence he has never seen, Palestinian college instructor Mazen Al-Najjar was removed from a federal prison, Aug. 23, hustled aboard a private jet and deported leaving behind his wife and three daughters who are U.S. citizens.
He is now in Lebanon with his sister, but his fate is unclear since the Lebanese government is threatening to cancel his visitor’s visa. Nor has South Africa, where he had hoped to move his family, accepted his visa application. Dr. Sami Al-Arian, a tenured computer science professor at the University of South Florida (USF), and his brother-in-law, told the World, “Of course we are utterly disappointed that Najjar had to leave the country. He spent 273 days in solitary confinement, which was seriously affecting his mental health. It was a lock-down situation with only one hour a day for exercise outside his cell. It was very humiliating because they forced him to strip naked to be searched every time he went in and out of the cell.”
Born in Gaza, Al-Najjar, came to the U.S. in 1981 and studied for an advanced degree in engineering in North Carolina before moving to Tampa, and enrolling at USF. Later he became a teacher at USF and married Dr. Al-Arian’s sister, Fedaa, a pharmacist. Al-Najjar has denied the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) allegations of ties to Islamic Jihad but nevertheless he was arrested on May 19, 1997 and spent over four years in prison without being charged with a crime. An immigration judge reviewed the secret evidence Dec. 6, 2000 and ordered him released because of insufficient proof of links to “terrorism.” Then-Attorney General Janet Reno, refused to overturn that decision.
In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, he was arrested again Nov. 13, 2001 and placed in solitary confinement. Attorney General John Ashcroft exulted that a court gave him “unambiguous authority” to jail Dr. Al-Arian without charges and deport him as a non-citizen although he is a stateless person with no passport and faces great difficulties finding a country that will accept him.
“The charges against him were bogus,” Dr. Al-Arian said. “They knew it would not stand up in court. He was persecuted because he was active in the cause of justice for the Palestinian people. All of his activities were legal and peaceful. He advocated on behalf of the Palestinian people in an academic and intellectual style.”
Al-Arian sharply disputed Bush Administration claims that the Bill of Rights does not protect non-citizens. “The founding fathers were very careful in the language of the Bill of Rights. They used the word ‘persons.’ It does not say ‘citizens,’” he said. “It is to protect the rights of all people.”
The racist persecution is not limited to Al-Najjar. “Fedaa’s license to practice as a pharmacist was revoked,” Dr. Al-Arian said. “She lost her job. It has been very tough for her and the children. There were such strong protests they finally gave her job back three weeks ago. But they don’t know when or where they will be reunited as a family.”
Gov. Jeb Bush is leading a vendetta seeking to fire Dr. Al-Arian on similarly spurious allegations and supports the decision of the USF board of trustees to fire Al-Arian, even though Dr. Al-Arian has won numerous awards as an outstanding teacher and has written 40 articles on computer science. The USF Faculty Senate lawsuit in support of Dr. Al-Arian has temporarily blocked the firing for now. The American Association of University Professors, and the American Federation of Teachers have come to his defense as have many of his current and former students. Palestinian and other Arab and Muslim groups have come to Dr. Al-Arian’s defense. The Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace provides massive documentation of the innocence of the two teachers on their website.
“I think this is the most important academic freedom case since Angela Davis,” Dr. Al-Arian said.
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