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2004-07-22

Farouk Abdel-Muhti 1947-2004: Palestinian Freedom Fighter Called For Unity Moments Before He Died

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Palestinian freedom fighter Farouk Abdel-Muhti, died Wednesday, apparently of a heart attack, after giving a speech in Philadelphia. He was 57 years old. His death comes just three months after he was released from jail where he was detained for two years without charge. We hear a recording of his last words as well as an address he gave on the night he was released from prison and we speak with his son Tariq and his fiancee and longtime friend Sharin Chiorazzo who was with him when he died. [includes rush transcript]

The struggle for Palestinians’ human rights has lost one of its leading fighters in the US. Farouk Abdel-Muhti, a member of the Pacifica radio station WBAI family, died yesterday, apparently of a heart attack, while he was giving a speech last night in Philadelphia. In his speech, he called for unity among groups fighting for social justice. His death comes just three months after he was released from jail where he was detained for two years without charge. He was 57 years old.

Farouk Adbel-Muhti was born in 1947 in Ramallah, a Palestinian city in the occupied West Bank of Jordan. Like many Palestinians, Farouk lived the uprooted life of a stateless refugee, traveling from country to country until finally settling in New York in the 1970s. He made it his home and has lived there ever since.

He came to the attention of immigration officials in the mid-1970s after overstaying his visa. An immigration judge ordered him deported, however, there was no way to carry out the deportation, since the West Bank was now controlled by Israel, which did not allow the return of people who left the Palestinian territories before the Israeli occupation of 1967.

Farouk continued to live openly in the New York area, engaging in a number of public political activities, with a focus on Palestinian rights and issues relating to immigration and Latin America.

In March 2002, Farouk began working regularly at Pacifica Radio station WBAI. He used his contacts to arrange interviews with Palestinians in the Occupied Territories on the morning radio program "Wake-Up Call."

One month later, three New York police officers and an INS agent, all in civilian dress, came to his Queens apartment without a warrant. They claimed they wanted to ask Farouk some questions about September 11th. They said they believed there were weapons and explosives in the apartment. When Farouk’s roommate, Bernard McFall refused to open the door, they threatened to break it down, entering without a warrant.

But Farouk wasn’t at home because he was at an early morning interview at WBAI. He learned of the raid from his roommate and his son, Tariq.

Farouk was detained on April 26, 2002 and jailed in various facilities around the country for two years. He was never charged with a crime. He was often held in solitary confinement, subjected to extensive interrogation, and often denied food. His health was failing but he remained handcuffed and shackled whenever he went to the health clinic. Two years after his detention, a federal judge ordered Farouk to be deported, charged or released. He walked out of prison on April 12, 2004.

Last night, after giving a speech at the Ethical Society in Philadelphia, Farouk’s head fell to the table. He collapsed and died shortly afterwards.

  • Farouk Abdel-Muhti, speaking moments before he died in Philadelphia July 21, 2004.
  • Farouk Abdel-Muhti, speaking the night he was released from prison at the launch of Amy Goodman’s "The Exception to the Rulers" book tour, April 13, 2004.
  • Farouk Abdel-Muhti, interviewed on Democracy Now! hours after his release from prison, April 13, 2004.
  • Sharin Chiorazzo, fiancee and longtime friend of Farouk Abdel Muhti. She was with him last night in Philadelphia.
  • Tariq Abdel-Muhti, son of Farouk Abdel-Muhti.

Previous Democracy Now! coverage:

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Farouk was detained April 26, 2002. Jailed in various facilities around the country for two years never charged with a crime, often held in solitary confinement, subjected to extensive interrogation, often denied food. His health was failing, but he remained handcuffed and shackled whenever he went to the health clinic. Almost two years after his detention, a federal judge said he either had to be charged, deported, or released. Ultimately, Farouk was released. Last night, after giving a speech at the Ethical Society in Philadelphia, Farouk collapsed and died. This is an excerpt of what he had to say last night.

FAROUK ABDEL-MUHTI: I thank you very much for your invitation but you know I expect very clear our struggle, you understand? It’s not the. I thank all of you, from all of the groups here, because all of you, you have supported my struggle. All of you see that I win my freedom, and our responsibility continues and especially for the progressive groups together without the [inaudible] the power to control our ideas, I prefer the ideas as coming from all of you. I prefer the ideas from the small groups. From small factions, from a small organization, from the left, progressive forces, from humanitarian forces to meet together and fight the same enemy which is imperialism, and imperialism you have two sides you have the side that is not your enemy and you have the side that is hiding under the shadow of the enemy which he is afraid to talk about the truth and to talk about the plans against our rights but I believe that nobody can stop the Palestinian struggle, and I believe that is not going to stop our insistence for rights. Thank you

AMY GOODMAN: As the crowd applauded, Farouk Abdel-Muhti’s head hit the table. He died soon after.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined in the studio by Sharin. Sharin is in the DemocracyNow! Studios in New York. She was the fiancé and long-time friend of Farouk Abdel-Muhti. She was with him in Philadelphia last night. We are joined by Tariq Abdel-Muhti, Farouk’s son. We extend our condolences to you and your family and to your friends. Sharin, can you talk about Farouk?

SHARIN CHIORAZZO: Yes. Would you like me to talk about his life or would you like me to talk about what happened last night as far as —

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about — start with last night.

SHARIN CHIORAZZO: Okay.

AMY GOODMAN: How was feeling the, the message he was trying to convey.

SHARIN CHIORAZZO: Basically, well, Farouk was continuing his work like as you were referring to after he was released from prison about two months ago. He started going on extensive speaking tours. In addition to going on, you know, WBAI’s "Wake-Up Call," and many, many organizations were asking me to speak. He was getting many interviews and a lot of write-ups. There have been biographies that have been produced about him. He was trying to go and spread the message about not only about the plight of the — what he went through and not only about his experience under detention and torture in the United States but also he always referred back to the plight of the Palestinians and he always referred back to the plight and problems facing his people in Palestine and all around the globe. He always reiterated and emphasized the fact that Palestinians are victims of terrorism. They are opposed to terrorism and that he personally is opposed to terrorism, but believes in the right to fight for his rights and his land. So, he was doing this, being invited to many, many forums. Last week, it was Oakland, California. This weekend, it was to be the socialist forum in Boston, Massachusetts, and in Philadelphia, the Ethical Society had invited him to speak on a panel on the anti-war forum where there were a number of human rights groups there, local activists as well as local Philadelphia area human rights groups and the socialist party of Pennsylvania. So, basically what he was starting to do was he was explaining his experience with the U.S. Marshalls and with the U.S. Marshall service and immigration service while he was detained and before. The experience leading up to his detention when he went on WBAI radio, Pacifica 99.5 FM and started. Broadcasting live broadcasts from the occupied territories. Getting on guests that were able to give accounts of what was happening on the ground. This had not been being shown by the mainstream media, obviously. So, he was getting on some prominent guests and people on the ground when the massacres occurred in which between 100 and 500 people were killed or died as their houses fell down on them. He was getting live broadcasts from there. He was also getting live broadcasts from the compounds in Ramallah when the Israelis put the compound under siege, and had Yasser Arafat holed up in it. And basically, he went into details about that, and about how after he had been on the air for about a month, the F.B.I. agents and the I.N.S., the immigration officials went to harass him and went to ask him about his paperwork. So, he went into all of the details about that, and he just started to get into the details of his — when he was detained and basically in nine jails in the United States of which eight months and ten days were spent in solitary confinement in York, Pennsylvania. The conditions and how he felt when he was alerted by the panel that he needed to cut the time. He was the last speaker. So, they said, you need to cut the time. He basically gave an inspirational message to the human rights community and the progressive community, giving them credit and, you know, for his release and telling them to continue the struggle, and he said, thank you and then as we saw on the tape, he collapsed. After that, you know, we didn’t really know what to do. We were surprised. We thought he fell asleep. We thought he just passed out. Someone in the audience was a C.P.R. Tried to do C.P.R. on him. Called an ambulance immediately, and they tried to revive him for ten or 15 minutes in the hall itself. In the ambulance and when we got to the hospital, but he never seemed to have — continue breathing since then. He had no breath, no breathing and no pulse from the time that he was in the hall. After about a half hour in the hospital, the medics informed us that they were not able to revive him and that they were not going to be able to revive him. We asked what was the cause of death, and they said they assumed it was a heart attack, however, we do have to get the medical examiner’s report today, because we don’t have a confirmed cause of death as of this point.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Sharin Chiorazzo, the long-time friend and fiancé say of Farouk Abdel-Muhti, a Palestinian activist who died last night giving a speech in Philadelphia. Tariq, again, our condolences you to and your family. This is hitting you very hard, I know. What about your father’s health in detention for almost two years? What kind of attention did he receive? We were hearing about his being ill there.

TARIQ ABDEL-MUHTI: Well, relatively not as much medical attention as anyone outside of jail would, and especially in the conditions that he was in getting transferred from prison to prison, you know, the medical conditions were always bad, you know, because it’s part of an overall problem with the prison system within the United States. And my father was a victim of this.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn for a moment to April 13. This was the day after Farouk Abdel-Muhti had been flown to La Guardia after the federal judge said that he had to be released, if he wasn’t charged or deported, and so, he was first flown south and then to La Guardia airport. That was the night, coincidentally, that we began our "Exception to the Rulers" tour around this country. We were at Cooper Union Hall, 1,000 people had come out. Tim Robbins first spoke, the actor, and Farouk Abdel-Muhti came into the hall. I was concerned it would be overwhelming after he had spent so many months in solitary confinement, but he came up on the stage. Bernard White and Jeremy Scahill were there, and seeing the event Bernard of WBAI, we had worked with Farouk together in the morning show. Jeremy, of course, democracy now! Producer and correspondent and Farouk came up on the stage. This is what he had to say.

FAROUK ABDEL-MUHTI: I thank to all of you, because I am a small part of our society and your communities. I thanks to the WBAI and radio Pacifica and DemocracyNow! To support me and to continue this attention. I win this moment freedom, but still our struggle continues because this war is war for rights and justice. The rights of the Chinese immigrants and the rights of the — of all of the people fighting for justice and equality and against fascism and oppression. We continue the struggle until we win.

AMY GOODMAN: Farouk Abdel-Muhti speaking on April 13th to 1,000 people in New York City, just after he had been released from almost two years in detention. That morning, April 13, as he had just come into New York, we talked to him on the phone on DemocracyNow!. This is what he had had to say.

AMY GOODMAN: As we bring you this national broadcast exclusive, Palestinian activist Farouk Abdel-Muhti is out of jail after almost two years. He was never charged with a crime, a prominent Palestinian activist in the New York area has just returned to New York. We welcome him to DemocracyNow!’s airwaves. Welcome to DemocracyNow!, Farouk Abdel-Muhti.

FAROUK ABDEL-MUHTI: Thank you very much, Amy Goodman and thank you to DemocracyNow! And all of you who support me. I feel myself part of you, you know, that and this struggle what is today continuing for the constitutional rights and for the rights of the people in the nation and overseas is linked one to the other ones. And we have to admire people like you who is continuing in the struggle for our rights. Yes, I win my freedom yesterday at 3:30. I was in a box in a place called the United States penitentiary, what is a big penitentiary located ten minutes from the airport of Atlanta, Georgia. After they moved me from there to the office of the I.N.S., and I.N.S. tells me I have to go to Reagan airport, and after that, you have your freedom and give me some papers to sign it, I think the paper is from the Israeli embassy to sign about my papers because according to him they say, you know, if possible, you can be — Israel is going to take side to separate Palestinians. After they put me into the airport into the airplane, I moved from there to the Reagan airport in Washington, and after from there, he come on the u.s. Airlines, and I arrived in La Guardia airport at 10:00. What my friends and my family and the peoples reporting me and you know, supporting my freedom, what I think my free come and my rights is some — is supposed to be part of the exam examples in the struggle for justice and equality and rights in this society of the United States. It’s different for all communities and ethnics to create a new society with democracy and rights.

AMY GOODMAN: Farouk Abdel-Muhti, the morning he returns to New York after almost two years detention. Tariq Abdel-Muhti, his son in the studio. Tariq, your final thoughts?

TARIQ ABDEL-MUHTI: Well, my final thoughts right now are that, well, okay, my father’s passed on, but his memory has not. Well, it hasn’t gone away. I guess you can say it will transcend, you know, to different generations. You know, his message will continue to go on. Because, you know, that would be like the essence of his spirit. And, you know, my father’s case is a prime example of many of the abuses that happened within the American prison system, and he’s also an example in the grand scheme of things of how victimized the Palestinian people are becoming, and basically what the United States government is doing to the Palestinian people. I mean, the — the United States government is not directly killing and intimidating Palestinians, but it certainly is doing it indirectly when in the name of anti-terrorism, a voice like my father’s is silenced, and, you know, when — at the same time, you know, our government continues to give billions of dollars of military and financial aid to Israel to the state of Israel for the last 30 years.

AMY GOODMAN: Tariq Abdel-Muhti and Sharin Chiorazzo, thank you for being with us. Again our condolences. Farouk Abdel-Muhti, Palestinian activist, human rights leader, died last night in Philadelphia after giving an address. Farouk was 57 years old. This is DemocracyNow!.

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