AL-ARIAN SUPPORTERS LOBBY FOR RELEASE AS HUNGER STRIKE CONTINUES
Supporters of former professor Sami al-Arian - now in the fifth week of a prison hunger strike as he refuses to testify in front of a federal grand jury - on Wednesday called on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to deport al-Arian prior to his scheduled release from prison.
Al-Arian, a former computer science professor at the University of South Florida, was accused by prosecutors of being a leader of a terrorist group called Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
After a six-month trial ended in an acquittal on some counts and a hung jury on others, al-Arian struck a plea bargain in May 2006 and admitted to conspiring to aid Palestinian Islamic Jihad, specifically by helping a family member with links to the group obtain immigration benefits and by lying to a reporter about another individual's ties to the group.
Al-Arian would be up for release in April, but his prison term is being extended indefinitely after a judge found him in civil contempt for refusing to testify in front of a grand jury in Alexandria, Va., investigating a cluster of Islamic charities in northern Virginia that has ties to al-Arian.
Al-Arian believes his plea deal specifically exempted him from cooperating with authorities. But two federal judges have ruled that al-Arian must testify.
Al-Arian began his hunger strike Jan. 22 to protest of the subpoena and contempt citation. His family says he has been drinking only four glasses of water a day. Last week he fainted and hit his head. He has since been transferred to a medical prison in Butner, N.C.
Al-Arian's lawyer, Peter Erlinder, said it is only fair that Gonzales release al-Arian now because prosecutors initially recommended to the judge that al-Arian receive time served when he struck the May 2006 plea deal. A judge rejected that recommendation and sentenced al-Arian to an additional 11 months.