On NBC’s Meet the Press with Tim Russert March 28, 2004.
Palestinian activist Farouk Abdel-Muhti was released from jail Monday night nearly two years after he was detained by U.S. immigration officials. He was never charged with a crime. In a national exclusive, Democracy Now! speaks with Abdel-Muhti in his first interview as a free man. He discusses his release, his struggle for freedom and the conditions of his detention which included 8-months of 23-hour lockdown in solitary confinement. [Includes rush transcript]
Prominent New York Palestinian activist Farouk Abdel-Muhti was released Thursday and returned home nearly two years after he was detained by U.S. immigration officals. He has never been charged with a crime.
A Pennsylvania federal judge last week ordered his release.
In April 2002, three New York police officers and an INS agent, all in civilian dress, came to Abdel-Muhti’s Queens apartment without a warrant. They claimed they wanted to ask Abdel-Muhti 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 Abdel-Muhti wasn’t at home because he was at an early morning interview at Pacifica station WBAI-New York. He learned of the raid from his son, Tarek, and his roommate, Bernard McFall who works for the Environmental Protection Agency.
He was detained on April 26, 2002 and jailed in various facilities ever since, often in solitary confinement, subjected to extensive interrogation, and often been denied food. His supporters considered him to be a political prisoner. As a Palestinian who came to the U.S. four decades ago, Abdel-Muhti argued he is "stateless" and has no country to which he can be deported.
- Farouk Abdel-Muhti
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 "Democracy Now’s" airwaves. Welcome to "Democracy Now!," Farouk Abdel-Muhti.
FAROUK ABDEL-MUHTI: Thank you very much, sister and comrade Amy Goodman, and thank you for "Democracy Now!" and all of you that support me, because I feel myself part of you in the 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. We have to admire people like you with the continuing struggle for our rights. Yes, I win my freedom yesterday at 3:30. I was in a box in a place called United States penitentiary. It is a big penitentiary located 15 minutes from the airport of Atlanta, Georgia. After that they moved me from there to the office of the INS. And INS tells me you have to go to Reagan airport with visa and then you have your freedom. They give me papers to sign. I think the paper is from the Israeli embassy to sign about my papers, because according to them, they say it’s possible that you can be–Israel is going to decide to accept Palestinians. After they put me in the airport to the airplane, I moved from there to Reagan Airport in Washington, and after from there, I come in US Airlines, and I arrived in La Guardia airport at 10:00. My friends, and my family, and the people that support me, and, you know, support my freedom, what I think my freedom and my rights is to some — is supposed to be part of the examples in the struggle for justice and equality and rights in this society of the United States, what is built up for all different communities and all different ethnics to create a new society with democracy and rights.
AMY GOODMAN: Farouk Abdel-Muhti, for those people who don’t know your story, quite a remarkable one, again, you were detained on April 26, 2002, almost two full years in jail.
FAROUK ABDEL-MUHTI: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you go back in time and talk about what happened? Talk about, even going back to the raid on your apartment when you were on Pacifica station WBAI’s airwaves with us on "Wake-up Call."
FAROUK ABDEL-MUHTI: Yes, when I was in WBAI Pacifica station on "Wake-up Call" in the morning, the task force came, and it was in the beginning of the month of April, they were looking for me. They were there, coming together in my house. They harassed my son and harassed the person that lived there, Bernie McFall. After that, they asked for me. My son and Bernie called me (at) WBAI, and after that we talked to everybody in the radio what had happened. After the 26th of the month, they come back, and they break the deal, because already my lawyer speak with him, so I can meet him two weeks after. We called him after two weeks. My lawyer called him, in that time, and after that, what happened, the officer said, "Well, it’s not the moment. We are going to tell you what day we can meet together." And by surprise, the 26th of April in the morning, about 4:00 in the morning, a taskforce with a lot of police with blue uniforms come in, (18 ones) to the door and tried to break the door and after I asked my lawyer and tell him, he tell me to open the door. When I opened the door, they jumped over me and took my work permit. He said, you are under arrest because your documents are not legal. You are illegal. And after they sent me down the stairs and they tried to investigate me and talked about this possibility that you will cooperate with us, and we can help you to get out. After I reject all of these things. I tell them, you know, I’m 56 years old, and I am not coming to be a participator or snitcher about myself or the society in general. After they took me to the federal plaza, there in the federal plaza, the people left and after some of them attacked me, and after 15 minutes, after the lawyer come and see me in my condition, and move me–to Middlesex county jail in New Jersey, when I stayed there for several months in that place, and was very difficult place because it was deportation by wholesale of people from Pakistan and Afghanistan, and majority are Egyptians being deported day-by-day by the airplanes, got families and some of them, I think, even citizens in this country and move me from there, and it was a protest outside. Jail is not supposed to protest and they came in to harass me and harass other people with me. And after these conditions, they give to me to be moved from there to the other place, called the Camden County jail. In Camden County jail I stayed there for one month, and I began to have problems with some of the guards. Some of the guards came to the Pakistani inmate and took his Holy Koran and threw him to the floor. After that, I told them, you are not supposed to do these things. After the people, the majority of the inmates came together and rejected that kind of action, and they wouldn’t take directions to call the INS to move me from there.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m going to stop you there just for 60 seconds, because we have to go to break. We’re talking to Farouk Abdel-Muhti. No, not in detention, as he has been for the last two years. He is a free man right now, as he talks about his trials in detention, not to be confused with a trail where he was found guilty or innocent. He has never been convicted of a crime, and now is he is free, as he talks about moving from the Camden County jail to the Passaic jail, and what happened within. We’re going to come back with Farouk Abdel-Muhti, in this exclusive broadcast, his first broadcast since he has been released, flown last night from Atlanta to New York. This is "Democracy Now!" We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: This is democracy now!. The war and peace report. I’m Amy Goodman. As we continue our conversation with Farouk Abdel-Muhti, the Palestinian activist who has been jailed for almost two years, taken on april 26, 2002, two weeks before, as he was broadcasting on Pacifica station WBAI in New York with us on "wake-up call," H is apartment was raided in Qeens by federal authorities. Several weeks later, they captured him. He was imprisoned, and yet no charges were brought against him. In jail for almost two years, and then released. A judge ordering his release last Thursday night. He moved him from the jails in the New York area to Atlanta and now flew him back from Atlanta as a freeman to New York. Farouk Abdel-Muhti stays with us on the telephone. Welcome to democracy now!, Farouk. You were describing moving from Camden to Pasaic, a Pakistani man, his Koran being taken from him. You explaining to the guards the problem with this, and then them moving you, you say, as a result of your intervention?
FAROUK ABDEL-MUHTI: Yes. The result of my intervention and the warden had a bad reputation in the state of Pennsylvania, people riot and American Muslims rioted and he loss the job after he comes to be in the warden in this county jail. After he sees my record, he called to I.N.S. and moved me from there to — the I.N.S. comes there to move me and take me to the other place, what you can tell is the rat’s place, because it’s in Pasaic County Jail, and it’s a place very dirty. The place that leaks by the water from the roof. The situation — the food was terrible. And the conditions were numerous against all of the inmates, and specifically the detainees from the I.N.S.. were suffering lots in that place. After a while, the people began to rise voices, and people — there were people from more than 46 nationalities, more than 70 people signed to send to the human rights organizations to talk about the situation this jail in Pasaic County Jail, and after it happened, these thing, me and other people from middle east, we make a hunger strike for eight days, and conditions — I need my release, an the other ones need the rights to move from there, because they have got children to somebody from Lebanon whose name is Sadak, have a daughter that just have three months and he is going to be deported, and he would like to see his daughter. There are other persons from Egypt has a daughter is one year and-and-a-half. We make — we make a hunger strike. We continued hunger strike. After that, — after the I.N.S. itervened in the question, and they moved us after eight days, they promised to move and in the second week, moving to Hudson County Jil, and me, I stayed in that place — they put me in a separated place, you know, and it’s not a compliment, but I was by myself -
AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Farouk Abdel-Muhti, he is just out of prison, he just flew in late last night in jail almost two years. We are asking you to stay with us, Farouk. Your attorney, Jeff Fogel is on the line us with us. I want to continue talk with you about your experience. Legal director, CCR. We talked with you yesterday as Farouk describes his experience, how unusual is this, as he describes the people in jail with him, almost two years without charges?
JEFF FOGEL: First, let me welcome Farouk. I haven’t had the opportunity to see him since he has been released, and he sounds much better than the last time spoke to him.
FAROUK ABDEL-MUHTI: Thank you. Thank you my brother, and thank you my sister, Amy Goodman and all of you from Democracy Now!.
JEFF FOGEL: I think Farouk was targeted as an issue from the start due to his activism in the community. I think secondly, it is not unusual for people who raise simple constitutional rights within the setting either of a pre-trial detention, immigration detention or the criminal conviction to be targeted by prison authorities as well. As I think I indicated yesterday there are a considerable number of people upwards of 200 as a result of immigration in jail, who have been convicted of nothing, who have been held for extended periods of time. How badly, they have been treated compared to Farouk, who was the subject of considerable abuse, harassment and so on, I cannot say because I’m not so familiar with their cases. I think Farouk‚s is a particular one, given the targeting as a result of his activism.
FAROUK ABDEL-MUHTI: Well, my brother, Sharif and sister, Amy Goodman, all of you an Democracy Now!, and everybody who listens to my voice, really, after this situation, the I.N.S. comes to me and I was thinking was going to deal — to give me my rights, you know, and they moved me from there four hours and half to a place called York County Jail located in York. In some of the areas of Pennsylvania state. I had been moved there, and when I moved there, I stayed for one day, lockup, and the second day they put me in the population, about two days in the population and the third day, they say, oh, you have to move. They moved me in the solitary confinement, and I stayed in solitary confinement in York County Jail for every day, 23 hours and 15 minutes, and just 45 minutes to take a shower, collect call phone and clean myself. The cell is a box, iron box, where you can see — you can’t see anything. You close the — you know, the food brings you from down like we are dogs. You know, they are in this place. I suffer in there eight months and ten days. I catch from there arthritis and gastritis -
AMY GOODMAN: I want to interrupt, Farouk, for one minute. You said you were for eight months at the York jail.
FAROUK ABDEL-MUHTI: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: In 23-hour-a-day lockdown?
FAROUK ABDEL-MUHTI: 23 hours and 15 minutes locked down every day.
AMY GOODMAN: What was the rationale that they gave me locking you down, again, no charges brought against you?
FAROUK ABDEL-MUHTI: Yes. There is no — I was never given the reason at this moment. Never opened it after that. When we are fighting, they were fighting about my freedom and my right, and the situation is still never give the answer why he put me in eight months and ten days in this conditions. You know, I’m in this moment coming in the month of march, what was the situation when the administration of bush is talking about the war in the middle east and all of these things, and many of these guards take a strong anti-Arab position there in the jail. They come to target me to just to come to beat me up, but I don’t get any opportunity to happen -
AMY GOODMAN: You were subjected to a lot of interrogation. What were they asking you?
FAROUK ABDEL-MUHTI: Well, Amy, before one asked me you when I was arrested, it was to cooperate with them to give information about Palestinians and Muslim organizations and all of these things. You know, what is completely is away from my side. Because I’m a man, activist for peace and justice and democracy. I am not — I condemn federalism. Some, you are a witness and democratic and now-I was a witness when it happened there on 9-11. I worked very hard to bring the Rabbis and the church and the iman. You know, I include them to march in the front of the — to protest who is more than 20,000 people, and, you know, I oppose any kind of terrorism because myself, we are victims of terrorism, and — in our country, and I oppose any kind of — any kind of this kind of terrorism, I believe in the social and collective justice for anybody with the democratic principles -
AMY GOODMAN: Farouk Abdel-Muhti is our guest, not in detention, but as a free man, he was released by immigration authorities last night after almost two years in prison. They wanted to deport you. Why couldn’t they? Farouk Abdel-Muhti, a Palestinian activist.
FAROUK ABDEL-MUHTI: Well, to the one question, Jordan cannot accept me, and the Palestinian Authority at the moment is not allowed to be as a people. It can only be given documents to be accepted there after the agreement of Oslo. The Palestinians live in Gaza Strip and West Bank, but I immigrated before this accord. You know, after that, the situation is never — in Israel is not to accept me. The only solution is to give my rights to my freedom, and we opened the habeas corpus, and the D.A. said what is the rights? You cannot stay more than six months in the jail. I stayed about two years to win my freedom.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeff Fogel, what about this issue of statelessness?
FAROUK ABDEL-MUHTI: Well, the question of the statelessness to this moment, the last time — in the last interview, the last decisions, what — thanks to my lawyer, Sean and Jeffrey from the Center for Constitutional Rights was very good and a talented -
AMY GOODMAN: Farouk, let me ask Jeff Fogel about this issue of statelessness.
JEFF FOGEL: The issue here in terms of repatriation is the fact that Israel does not want any additional Palestinians moving into the occupied territories. So, they have been adamant in basically refusing to cooperate even with the United States, their close ally in repatriating people. So that, in a sense, leaves Farouk in a stateless position, particularly since he left the Occupied Territories before they were occupied, so does not appear on any of what — what is called the Israeli Registry of Palestinians living in the occupied territory as of 1967. They claim to have no record of him, notwithstanding his valid Jordanian birth certificate. The bottom line is Israel doesn’t want more Palestinians around.
FAROUK ABDEL-MUHTI: This is direct like brother Sharif has mentioned. This has happened, and after that, I within my freedom, but at the same time, the government sends a letter to Israel that they are going to accept Palestinians. But after the judge in my case was given ten days do you be free and it does not have any solutions, one of the two — has to win the freedom, you know that? And when the government never answered in ten days is given the right to — I win my freedom. Yes. And you know, like i mentioned before, back to my condition in that jails, you know, after I stayed eight months and continue days in solitary confinement, they moved me to New Jersey to a jail belonging to the Bergen County jail, and in that place -
AMY GOODMAN: Farouk, we only have ten seconds, your feels right now.
FAROUK ABDEL-MUHTI: Well, about my feelings, really, I — I still am in pain, the pain is physical and sometimes spiritual. It’s not easy, you pay two reason for not any crimes in jail and are in eight different prisons, counties and jails and penitentiaries. My hope — my inspiration when i speak to you gives me power to continue to speak for rights and justice.
AMY GOODMAN: Farouk Abdel-Muhti. I want to thank you for being with us.