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Noor Alashi and others speak out in Tampa to demand Justice for the Holy Land 5 and Anti-war 23

By Marisol Marquez |
March 25, 2013
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Noor Elashi speaks about demanding Justice for the Holy Land 5.
Noor Elashi speaks about demanding Justice for the Holy Land 5. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Tampa, FL—Students, anti-war activists and community organizers gathered at the First United Church of Tampa on Sunday, March 24 to demand an end to U.S. government political repression. 35 people discussed ways to oppose political repression and gain freedom for the Holy Land Five.

Noor Elashi spoke about her father Ghassan Elashi, one of the Holy Land Five. Mr. Elashi co-founded The Holy Land Foundation and is currently serving a 65-year sentence in a Communications Management Unit (CMU) prison.

The Holy Land Foundation was a charity organization that provided food and supplies like clothing and books to children both in the U.S. and in Palestine. The Red Cross and other NGOs do very similar charity work. At the time, The Holy Land Foundation became the largest Muslim charity organization in the U.S. Shortly after 9/11 however, then-President Bush launched an FBI investigation and raided the homes of the charity leaders. They were investigated, tried twice and sentenced to long prison terms, becoming known as the Holy Land Five.

"Everyone who hears the facts of my father's case says he is an innocent man," said Noor Elashi. She described visiting her father and taking photos outside the prison. The guards harassed her and confiscated her film, delaying and threatening to prevent the family’s visit with Ghassan Elashi. The guards forced Noor to delete all of her photographs; not even a photograph of her father was allowed to stay on her camera.

Noor describes how Ghassan Elashi was thrown in solitary confinement, "for hugging my little brother, who has Down syndrome, or for writing his name on a yoga mat." Solitary confinement is a torturous way to punish those who are already serving time in special prisons for Muslims. Ghassan Elashi is now held at the CMU prison in Marion, Illinois. CMU prisons violate the human rights of prisoners and are much more restrictive than regular prisons.

John Cline, attorney for Ghassan Elashi, talked about the legal restrictions and outrageous rulings in the Holy Land Five case. The crowd learned the case is based on hearsay evidence - statements alleging the Holy Land Foundation was part of Hamas. In addition there was “shock video” unrelated to the case of Palestinians burning flags.

Finally Cline spoke of an Israeli military officer, never identified to the defense, who was allowed to testify. This is something new to U.S. trials and law. This is the first time the U.S. government structured a case in this manner. “I almost quit my practice after learning this detail," said Cline. "It was hard for me to believe the justice system had failed and that there was no justice here." Attorney John Cline ended his talk with urging those who were present to share this story with everyone they know. The Holy Land Five marked the beginning of a judicial form of political repression targeting American Muslims, but also anti-war and international solidarity activists.

The final speaker was Mick Kelly from the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, who described the FBI raid of his home, "I was at work at 7:30 in the morning when I got a call from my wife telling me the FBI was in my house," said Kelly. He left work and came home to a crowd of FBI agents taking pictures, throwing newspapers and other items into dozens of boxes. "Over 70 agents all across the country did the very same thing to 22 other anti-war activists," said Kelly.

The raids were a direct attack on anti-war activists. Mick Kelly and the other 22 antiwar activists are living day to day without knowing when or where they may be raided or indicted. Under U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas' watch, law enforcement agent Karen Sullivan met and tricked her way into anti-war activists' lives; all while monitoring and reporting back to the FBI.

“I have spoken out about supporting the people's right to self-determination, to liberation for Palestine and Colombia. No amount of political repression will make me stop saying that," said Mick Kelly.

Jared Hamil, an organizer of the event, said, “What every person at the talk took home with them was the fact that anti-war sentiment is growing. The Holy Land Five represent everything that is wrong with our current justice system. Charity is not a crime. Feeding children is not a crime. Being anti-war is not a crime. We must unite and fight back against these attacks and demand a stop to government political repression.”

The event was organized by Mel Underbakke of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms and Jared Hamil with Committee to Stop FBI Repression-Tampa. Leaders from Students for a Democratic Society, Students for Justice in Palestine, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and the Bradley Manning Support Network were present.

Tampa is one of three Florida cities - also including Tallahassee and Gainesville - where Noor Elashi, John Cline and Mick Kelly are touring. If you are unable to attend the upcoming talks, be sure to sign the Stop FBI Repression Pledge to Resist FBI, Grand Jury Repression here: http://www.stopfbi.net/get-involved/pledge-of-resistance and share their stories with everyone you know.

"I told my father that as long as I am alive, people will hear about my father's case. I will not stop until there is justice,” stated Noor Elashi.

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