Vigil commemorates Al-Arian’s struggle

Dozens of local religious leaders, activists and well wishers prayed and sang “We shall overcome” outside Orient Road Jail in Tampa on Sunday.

They came to call for the release of former USF professor Sami Al-Arian, who has been incarcerated for three years.

Al-Arian and three other co-defendants were charged with supporting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and put on trial by the U.S. Attorney’s office. In December, Al-Arian was found not guilty on eight of 17 charges and acquitted on all others.

The government is seeking to retry Al-Arian on the remaining charges.

“Ashcroft called this one of the major terrorism cases of the 21st century,” one woman said. “We are going to build this as the major civil rights case of the 21st century.”

Some of the speakers who were present at the vigil were from the Citizens’ Committee for Equal Justice (CCEJ), a newly formed committee that is attempting to engage in negotiations with the U.S. Attorney Generals office. Some of the members include linguistics professor and U.S. foreign policy critic Noam Chomsky, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clarke and professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University John Esposito, though none of those three were present.

“We have sent a letter to the Attorney General’s Office asking him to let (Sami Al-Arian) go and to meet with us,” chairman of the American Muslim Taskforce and CCEJ member Agha Saeed said.

“Our message is twofold. We want the government to accept the verdict and release him, and if not, then we shall have a good faith negotiation.”

According to Saeed, the committee is involved with fund raising and is looking to set up a defense team for Al-Arian.

One man held a large papier-mâche statue of Lady Justice wearing a blindfold. Some people held up signs saying, “Still in jail, what was the trial for?”

As the event wore on, most of the group stayed and listened to Bob Dylan and other folk songs while waiting to hear former Congressman and CCEJ member Paul Findley, R-Ill., speak.

When he arrived, he marched directly over to the microphone and read from his prepared speech.

“(Al-Arian’s) confinement is wrong, legally, morally and politically,” Findley said. “If Attorney General Roberto Gonzales will order the dismissal of Al-Arian – he will quicken the spirit of all of those in America who suffer from discrimination.”

True to his state’s namesake, Findley closed with a quote from Abraham Lincoln.

“Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty,” Findley said. “Destroy that spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism.”