A former university professor on a hunger strike for the past 44 days to protest the circumstances of his imprisonment could soon be force fed, his lawyer said Wednesday.

Sami al-Arian, a Palestinian who taught computer science at the University of South Florida, stopped eating on Jan. 22 to protest a judge’s decision to hold him indefinitely after he refused to testify before a Virginia grand jury.

Nahla al-Arian said her husband has lost more than 40 pounds on the water-only diet and is so weak that he needs a wheelchair.

“His health is really deteriorating,” she said. “We are really worried that there will be permanent damage.”

Because of that, officials at the Federal Medical Facility in Butner have told al-Arian that they will begin force feeding if his condition worsens, said his lawyer, Peter Erlinder.

“It’s an invasive procedure, and there’s some danger of injury,” Erlinder said. “We’re hopeful that that there can be resolution before that. (U.S. Attorney General Alberto) Gonzales could end this all with a stroke of a pen.”

Supporters of al-Arian have asked Gonzales to deport al-Arian before his scheduled release from prison in April. Prosecutors and al-Arian had agreed to deportation as a part of the plea deal. Erlinder declined to say where al-Arian would be deported.

During a six-month trial in 2005, prosecutors labeled al-Arian a leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which the United States calls a foreign terrorist organization. The trial ended in an acquittal on some counts and a hung jury on others.


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