Protesters: Al-Arian is a victim of political punishment

TAMPA — As protesters marched outside the Federal Courthouse Tuesday, the only person they said should be considered a terrorist is President George W. Bush.

For an hour, about 50 demonstrators marched, calling for justice in Thursday’s arrest of Sami Al-Arian.

Among supporters were members of the Florida Alliance for Peace and Social Justice, which has taken a stand across the state against a possible war with Iraq.

Dwight Lawton, a member of the coalition, said the organization felt the need to defend Al-Arian, as well.

“The Florida Alliance expresses our profound support for Dr. Al-Arian and other men arrested Thursday,” Lawton said. “We believe these men are political prisoners.”

But protester David Hackman, a retired employee from the Florida Department of Transportation, said Al-Arian should remain in jail.

Hackman, 58, held a sign that read “Convict Sami Al-Arian” and “USF stop pay now to terrorist Sami.”

“The only thing that allowed him to keep his job is this academic freedom organization. I say the heck with him,” Hackman said. “There’s too many facts there that they should deny him innocence.”

Omali Shatala, a member of the Florida Alliance, said it is not only Al-Arian that deserves justice, but the other seven Islamic men who were indicted Thursday as well.

“Dr. Al-Arian is one of the high-profile people to whom this is happening, but all of us would be hypocritical if we didn’t recognize this is part of something that has been going on since Sept. 11,” Shatala said. “We know this is something that can happen to any person with unpopular opinions in this country, and there is something awfully wrong.”

However, Hackman, a former military man, said it would be unjust if Al-Arian is not convicted, adding that taxpayers have had to pay his salary.

“I’ve been following the case … I know the indictment and the facts are there,” Hackman said. “There are other people out there who feel just the same way I do.”

USF Senior Saad Altayeb asked Hackman during the protest to explain why Hackman thinks Al-Arian is a terrorist.’

Altayeb said he thinks a majority of people who are not familiar with the case feel the same as Hackman.

“I think people like him need to take a look at both sides of the issue,” Altayeb said.

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