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Decision expected in Al-Arian contempt case

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. is expected today to review a judge’s decision to hold former USF professor Sami Al-Arian in contempt of court for refusing to testify about a group of Islamic charities in Northern Virginia, his wife Nahla said in an interview with Democracy Now!.

If the court finds in his favor, Al-Arian would likely end a 61-day hunger strike, during which he has lost 50 pounds and the ability to walk, Nahla said.

An Alexandria, Va. judge sentenced Al-Arian to 18 months in prison in November for his refusal to testify. At the time, the former political science professor had 174 days left on a 57-month sentence handed down by a Tampa judge after Al-Arian admitted to conspiring to provide services to a terrorist group in an agreement with federal prosecutors in April.

Al-Arian and his attorneys contend oral statements made during his plea negotiations exempted him from testimony in future cases, but a Tampa federal judge ruled that only the written plea agreement was binding.

Al-Arian signed the plea agreement in April 2006, after a jury acquitted him on eight of 17 charges and deadlocked on the rest.

If the court upholds the charge, Al-Arian will serve the remaining 174 days of his 57-month sentence after the 18-month sentence ends. Per his plea agreement, he will be deported.

Investigators want Al-Arian to reveal his ties to the Institute of Islamic Thought, one of the groups under investigation. According to court documents, Al-Arian contends he has no information that could help the grand jury investigation and his ties to the Insitute of Islamic Thought ended more than a decade ago.