Update on detained Palestinian activist/Pacifica
reporter Farouk Abdel-Muhti
Below the Urgent Action Alert you'll find an interesting article on Farouk that ran today in the Herald News, a newspaper in Paterson, New Jersey. Again, for those who are new to this case, at the time of Farouk's arrest, he had not only been a community activist, but was also working with WBAI's "Wake Up Call" program to bring Palestinian voices to the airwaves.
URGENT ACTION 10/7/02:
Farouk Abdel-Muhti is a Palestinian activist who was arrested by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) on Apr. 26 of this year. Supporters believe he was targeted for his effective media work around Palestinian rights. He has been held at three different county jails in New Jersey since his arrest. Conditions are terrible at all the jails: the INS detainees suffer from a complete absence of medical care, awful food, crowded conditions and frequent abuses and humiliations at the hands of prison guards and INS officials.
Starting at around 3am on Wednesday, Oct. 2, the INS made Farouk collect his belongings, take his money out of the commissary and check out of Passaic County Jail. He was not told where he was being taken. Many other detainees witnessed the move.
Farouk was taken with several other detainees in a closed van which picked up more detainees from Hudson County Jail before traveling to various consulates in Manhattan to try to get them travel documents to facilitate their deportation. The detainees were not allowed to dress appropriately for the trip, and they were kept in extremely high temperatures in the unventilated van throughout the day. After returning to New Jersey, the INS tried to leave Farouk at Hudson County Jail, but the deportation officer--after receiving a concerned phone call from the paralegal working on Farouk's case--made them return Farouk to Passaic instead.
The Committee for the Release of Farouk Abdel-Muhti urges all supporters of human rights to call or fax INS New Jersey District Director Andrea Quarantillo (phone 973-645-4421, fax 973-297-4848) immediately to demand:
1) Release Farouk Abdel-Muhti immediately. He is a stateless Palestinian who is not deportable, and he has been in jail almost six months. Like the majority of the INS detainees, he is neither a threat to society nor a flight risk. Arbitrary administrative detention makes a mockery of our justice system. The INS should free all the detainees.
2) Stop the arbitrary transfers of detainees. If the INS wants to move a detainee, it should first inform the detainee and his or her legal counsel, and provide justification for the move.
3) Stop overcrowding the county jails, and take responsibility for improving conditions. The INS seems to be deliberately overcrowding Passaic in an effort to make conditions there so miserable that detainees would be forced to accept deportation, even to a country where their lives may be at risk. When detainees complain about conditions, don't just move them to another jail--fix the problems!
4) Let INS detainees use public phones which allow them to access toll-free numbers, outside of the costly "prison collect" phone system. Why should MCI-Worldcom get $25 every time a detainee needs to talk to family members or report a new injustice?
Please make your call or send your fax TODAY.
Congress is ultimately responsible for our country's immigration policies, so contact your senators and representative during this election campaign period: let them know you oppose INS detention and the stepped-up immigration enforcement measures imposed since Sept. 11, 2001. Tell them: these discriminatory policies waste our tax dollars and don't make us any safer. In fact, they are a threat to the principles of freedom and justice for which this country claims to stand.
From: David L. Wilson
Unraveling the mystery of
Tuesday, October 08, 2002
By JANON FISHER
(Front-page article, with two pictures, in the Herald News, which is based in Paterson. On the web: http://www.northjersey.com/page.php?level_3_id=45&page=5159789)
Farouk Abdel-Muhti was still being held in the Passaic County Jail Monday night, detained on immigration violations.
But not even the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service is always certain of his whereabouts.
For the 55-year-old Palestinian, his nearly six-month detention, his constant relocation and the confusion over his whereabouts is not governmental ineptitude, but a conspiracy to curb his First Amendment rights.
Abdel-Muhti is one of the 2,000-plus Muslim men with immigration violations who were arrested and detained by the INS in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He is being detained on an outstanding 1995 deportation order, but there have been no criminal charges filed against him. A self-proclaimed activist for the rights of Palestinian people, Abdel-Muhti charged in an interview that the INS arrested him to squelch public debate about Palestinian rights and has kept him in detention since April, because he refused to cooperate with federal authorities.
"(The INS) wants me to shut my mouth, they want to keep any Palestinian from talking about his rights," said Abdel-Muhti. "They told me, 'If you don't cooperate, we're going to send you to Israel, to the Mossad.' "
INS officials adamantly denied any punitive measures against the detainee for expressing his opinions.
"Decisions about detention operations are made based on a variety of operational criteria and concerns. These may often include availability of bed space, anticipated operational needs, etc," wrote Andrea Quarantillo, district director for the INS in Newark, in a faxed letter to this newspaper. She added, "Nevertheless, retribution is not and has never been a consideration in determining where detainee(s) may be housed."
Since his arrest, on April 26 of this year, Abdel-Muhti has been moved three times, between Camden, Middlesex and Passaic jails, and he believes that if he continues his criticism of INS policy, he will continue to be moved around - perhaps to Louisiana, away from his family and his network of supporters, one supporter said.
"There's been a lot of mobilizing around Farouk and with protest (planned) in front of the Passaic County Jail on Oct. 12, if the INS wants to diffuse that, they could move him out of New Jersey," said Jeannette Gabriel, a friend and one of the protest organizers.
Recently, the Herald News requested an interview with the Palestinian detainee from the INS, after he contacted the newspaper from a jail phone.
Although the INS did not deny the request, the agency repeatedly told the newspaper that the detainee was being held in the Camden County Jail. During phone conversations with Abdel-Muhti, he said he was in the Passaic County Jail.
After the newspaper pointed out the agency's error in locating Abdel-Muhti, INS officials refused to concede, and on Sept. 17, Quarantillo wrote: "Mr. Abdel-Muhti is detained, and has been for some time, in the Camden County Jail."
Only after a letter from Abdel-Muhti's attorney, Joel R. Kupferman, did the agency finally agree that he was being held in Passaic and rescheduled the newspaper's interview.
The interview took place in Passaic County Jail's glass-enclosed visitors' room on the morning of Sept. 20.
In correspondence both before and after the interview, the INS refused to address reasons behind their insistence that Abdel- Muhti was in Camden County Jail.
A member of the Palestine Aid Society, Palestine National Alliance and the Palestine Education Committee, Abdel-Muhti has also organized and participated in several protests and peace rallies. He lived for several years in Central America and speaks fluent Spanish. Gabriel said that Abdel-Muhti has helped bridge the Latino and Middle Eastern communities in New York City. It is also the reason that he might have been targeted for arrest, supporters said.
Another reason they cite is his vast network of contacts in the Palestinian community in the United States and in the Middle East.
"He knows people all over the place. If you wanted to talk to the mayor of Nablus or the mayor of Jericho, Farouk was the one to call," said Bernie McFall, a friend who was sharing his apartment in Queens with Abdel-Muhti and his son when authorities arrested him.
In March 2002, as the second intifada started to heat up, Abdel- Muhti began to call upon those contacts to express their views on the radio. At that time, he was working for WBAI radio in New York, arranging interviews with Palestinian leaders for the morning radio show Your Wake Up Call. .
Abdel-Muhti was up and out the door early in the morning to prepare for the drive-time show. He was not at home the first time the INS came knocking.
On Tuesday, April 9th, according to McFall, federal and city law enforcement agents first came to the apartment looking for the Palestinian.
McFall said that after he told them Abdel-Muhti was out, they became abusive and threatening.
"(The agents) said that I was a disgrace to the American people, that he wanted to throw me out the window," said McFall.
After the first visit from police, Abdel-Muhti consulted with his lawyer and decided it would be better to offer to sit down with the agents in their office, with his lawyer present. But the offer was ignored, according to both Abdel-Muhti and McFall.
Abdel-Muhti went back to work at the radio station and continued the radio show, focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
On April 26, at 5 a.m., authorities came knocking again. This time, Abdel-Muhti was home and they were insistent on speaking with him, according to McFall. After a brief standoff with authorities, who, McFall said, never provided a search warrant, Abdel-Muhti was taken to 26 Federal Plaza, New York City, where authorities made him an offer.
"They told me, 'If you cooperate with us, we will help you - get you out,'" Abdel-Muhti said.
They offered to give him favorable treatment in exchange for a list of Palestinian aid organizations and the people who supported them, he said.
"You are playing with my dignity, you are playing with my principles," he said he told them.
After he refused, the agents became angry and beat him, Abdel- Muhti said.
He was then taken to the Middlesex County Correctional Facility, where he said he was held until July 15.
Abdel-Muhti said that he was moved, because protests organized both inside and outside the jail became a headache to the warden.
He was moved to the Camden County Correctional Facility, where, again, he became an unwelcome presence, Abdel-Muhti and his supporters said. He was moved to the Passaic jail on Sept 5, he said.
"It appears that the transfer to Passaic was in retaliation for Farouk's constant advocacy on behalf of himself and other detainees," wrote David Wilson, one of Abdel-Muhti's leading supporters, in a recent e-mail.
Immigrants' rights advocates have long accused the INS of punishing detainees, especially post-Sept. 11 detainees, for speaking to the press and criticizing the agency. But rarely are they able to provide concrete evidence.
Abdel-Muhti and his supporters point to his relocations as proof of retaliation. But the INS is a large bureaucracy that has a reputation for snafus. Earlier this year, several INS officials were reassigned after student visa approval notices were sent to two of the Sept. 11 high-jackers six months after the attack.
On Oct. 2, Abdel-Muhti said, he was taken to the Honduran Consulate, to see if he could be deported to that country. Because he is not Honduran, the consulate refused to accept him and he was taken back to the jail, he said. This time he was admitted as Farouk Mahmoud, he said. Although he protested that this was not his name, the jail has yet to change it, he said.
Abdel-Muhti is not the only one to suffer from clerical errors surrounding detention, said Mohamed Shaaban Seif, another immigrant inmate detained at Passaic County Jail. In a recent phone interview, Seif said he had been given the name Mohamed Jhaaban.
On her first visit, Seif's wife, Rebekah, was turned away, because the INS had recorded his name incorrectly, and because she had arrived, 13-month-old baby in tow, on the wrong night, said the couple.
Visitations are scheduled by last names on different days of the week.
But Rebekah Seif said it's just the way the immigration service operates.
"Honestly, dealing with INS is a problem," she said. "The system is hard. It takes a lot of time and it needs a lot of work."
Reach Janon Fisher at (973) 569-7163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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