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Al-Arian held in contempt, goes on hunger strike

Former USF professor Sami Al-Arian began another hunger strike after being held in contempt of court for refusing to testify, his supporters said Tuesday.

Al-Arian’s supporters also said he has filed an appeal of an order that says his plea agreement does not protect him from having to testify.

Al-Arian pleaded guilty in April to providing aid to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an organization the U.S. government classifies as terrorist.

For Al-Arian, who could have been released from the Virginia prison on April 13, being held in contempt could result in having another 18 months tacked on to his sentence.

After he pleaded guilty in April, a judge sentenced him to 57 months in prison.

That plea came five months after Al-Arian’s trial in Tampa ended with jurors failing to convict him on a single count. Al-Arian has never been convicted of any crime.

“Dr. Sami Al-Arian began a hunger strike to protest continued government harassment. In spite of an agreement intended to resolve his case once and for all, the government has continued to harass Dr. Al-Arian and mire him further in legal purgatory,” according to a press release from Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace, which supports Al-Arian.

This is Al-Arian’s second hunger strike. His first occurred just after his first arrest in February 2003. Supporters claim it lasted 140 days.

Al-Arian taught computer engineering while at USF.