A federal appeals court has upheld a contempt-of-court finding against a former Florida college professor who admitted to aiding Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Sami Al-Arian.

A three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this afternoon that Al-Arian had no grounds to defy a subpoena from a federal grand jury investigating Muslim charities in Northern Virginia.

Judges William Traxler Jr., Diana Motz, and Dennis Shedd wrote that they were “unpersuaded” by Al-Arian’s argument that a plea bargain he entered into after a six-month trial in Florida on terrorism support charges excused him from having to testify before a grand jury.

In a related development today, Al-Arian’s supporters announced that he is dropping a water-only hunger strike he undertook and will now pursue a “liquid-only fast.” He began the hunger strike on January 22 to protest his treatment. Last month, he collapsed and was moved to a federal prison medical facility in Butner, N.C. Web sites set up by Al-Arian’s supporters indicate he is gaunt and has lost as much as 55 pounds.

A federal judge in Tampa, James Moody Jr., ruled in October that Al-Arian’s plea agreement did not exempt him from grand jury subpoenas. Al-Arian’s attorneys argued that their client, his lawyers, and prosecutors agreed that he would not have to testify in Virginia, but Judge Moody said that alleged promise could not be enforced because the written plea agreement contained no explicit provision to that effect. The judge’s decision is the subject of a separate appeal pending before the 11th Circuit in Atlanta.

In May, Judge Moody sentenced Al-Arian to 57 months in prison in connection with his guilty plea to one count of providing services to a designated terrorist entity. With credit for time served prior to his trial, the former professor was expected to be released and deported later this year.

However, Judge Gerald Lee, who oversees the Alexandria, Va.-based grand jury, effectively extended Al-Arian’s prison term by ordering him jailed for defying the grand jury. Al-Arian could serve up to 18 months in civil contempt before beginning to serve out the remaining months of his criminal sentence.

Muslim groups have initiated a campaign to lobby federal officials to drop the subpoena and deport Al-Arian immediately.


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