A former college professor who pleaded guilty to aiding a Palestinian terrorist group has begun a hunger strike to protest “continued government harassment,” according to his supporters.

Sami Al-Arian begun the strike after being held in contempt for refusing to testify before a grand jury in Virginia, the Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace, said in a news release Tuesday.

Al-Arian claims he is surrounded by rats and cockroaches in prison, and is forced to wear dirty and inadequate clothing.

Al-Arian, who has less than 18 months left on a 57-month sentence for aiding the Palestinian Islamic Jihad with nonviolence activities, was found guilty of contempt in November in federal court in Alexandria, Va.

Attorneys for former University of South Florida professor contend that the terms of his plea agreement freed him from further cooperation with the government. But a federal judge disagreed. An appeal has been filed with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

When called before the grand jury in Alexandria, Va., on Oct. 19, Al-Arian refused to answer questions about the International Institute of Islamic Thought in Herndon, Va., which funded Al-Arian’s Palestinian think tank in Tampa.

Al-Arian’s status will be reviewed every six months, for up to 18 months. Then, when the contempt sentence is completed, he will serve the remaining sentence for the terrorism charge and be deported.

Al-Arian pleaded guilty in April to one count of aiding the PIJ. Prosecutors had accused him of being an active member of the terrorist group, but a six month trial last year failed to produce a guilty verdict.


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