The Muslim Student Association held a news conference Friday afternoon to express its reaction to the arrests of USF professor Sami Al-Arian and Arabic instructor Sameeh Hammoudeh. The conference, which was held in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center, included USF student associations such as the Campus Greens and the Alliance of Concerned Students.
MSA Vice President Aliyah O’Keeffe began the conference by reading a statement that expressed the group’s disbelief and called for a fair trial with the arrests of the two men indicted Thursday with two others on conspiracy to commit murder and racketeering.
“As Muslims, we do not ask for special treatment, but simply equal treatment under the law,” O’Keeffe said.
MSA leaders said that they were not there to declare the innocence or the guilt of those arrested but asked that the system hold true to the notion of innocence until proven guilty.
“This press conference is about due process and restoring the public’s perception of fair play within the system,” O’Keeffe said.
MSA leaders also expressed their concern about the motivations for the arrests.
“We are concerned that the USF professors were arrested for their political views,” O’Keeffe said.
Al-Arian, as he was led into the courthouse Thursday, he said, “It’s all political.”
Al-Arian has said in the past that his views embrace a liberated Palestine through peaceful means.
Another news conference along with a protest to support Al-Arian will be held at the Tampa Federal Building Tuesday at 8:30 a.m., before Al-Arian’s bail hearing.
MSA, as well as the two other USF student associations present, made sure to acknowledge that they were not speaking on behalf of USF. The main theme throughout the news conference was the violation of civil liberties that the U.S. Patriot Act represents. Some experts say the Patriot Act facilitated the gathering of circumstantial evidence for Al-Arian’s indictment.
Sean Kinane, a USF graduate student representing the Alliance of Concerned Students, called on Americans to abolish the “unconstitutional” U.S. Patriot Act.
“John Ashcroft has rewritten the Bills of Rights and has destroyed the very freedoms America is supposed to stand for,” Kinane said.
Kinane said that the current climate is reminiscent of past events in American history, such as the McCarthy chapter of incriminating people as communists on circumstantial evidence.
“It’s an obligation (of Americans) not to be doomed to repeat the history that (America) keeps forgetting,” Kinane said.
Also on hand was Stacy De-Lin, a representative from the Campus Greens, who called for a fair and just trial, as well.
“We ask the prosecution and the justice department that the burden of proof lies with them, and that is not enough to influence the court of public opinion,” De-Lin said.
De-Lin compared some of the most recent U.S. government’s measures, including the detention of Muslim-Americans under secret evidence without trial or charge, with the confinement of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps during World War II.
“We must be sure that these charges against Dr. Al-Arian and the other defendants do not fall under racial profiling,” De-Lin said.
Representing the Florida Alliance for Peace and Social Justice was Omali Yeshitela, a leader in the struggle for freedom, justice and liberation for African people. Yeshitela said Al-Arian’s arrest represents a very serious issue because of the impact it has on the questions of free speech.
“The fact that Dr. Al-Arian is locked up today has to do with the fact that he is an Arab, that he is a Muslim and that he supports the cause of Palestine,” Yeshitela said.
Yeshitela also said Al-Arian is one of hundreds of Muslims, Palestinians and Arabs who are being held by the U.S. government.
“This case is the most recent scheme that the American government has come up with to try to terrorize people. They would remove the opposition to this criminal massacre that they are set upon delivering to the people in Iraq and the Middle East,” Yeshitela said.
Before opening the floor to questions, Ahmad Bedier, a representative from the Council of American Islamic Relations, briefly spoke about the concerns of the Muslim community regarding the latest controversy surrounding Al-Arian.
“We want to seek justice in this case. We believe in the right to due process,” Bedier said. Bedier said right now there are people who believe there are terrorists in Tampa, and that the Muslims in Tampa are terrorists. He said he believes that this assumption is not a fair one.
“The fact that everyone is guilty and that you have to prove your innocence is something that we are used to seeing in communist countries, and now we see this happening in America, which is very unfortunate and a great concern to us.”