Emergency Motion Filed in Federal Court Seeking Immediate Release of Palestinian Jailed on "Secret Evidence"

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
December 7, 2000 12:00 am

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MIAMI–Two days after a Bradenton immigration judge ordered the release of a 43-year-old man jailed for three-and-a-half years on “secret evidence,” his lawyers are still fighting to set him free, the American Civil Liberties Union said today.

“Today we were forced to file an Emergency Motion with the federal district court in Miami seeking the immediate release of Dr. Mazen Al Najjar,” said Randall C. Marshall, Legal Director of the ACLU of Florida. “By refusing to release Dr. Al Najjar following Wednesday’s decision by the Immigration Judge granting bond, it is our contention that the INS is failing to comply with the orders of the federal court.”

The emergency stay was granted less than 24 hours after Immigration Judge R. Kevin McHugh ordered that Al-Najjar be released on $8,000 bail. The ACLU’s 20-page request asks Judge Joan A. Lenard to schedule a hearing to set aside the INS’s Board of Immigration Appeals decision to indefinitely stay Al-Najjar’s release order. Attorneys for Al-Najjar also are requesting that Lenard order his immediate release from custody.

In May, Judge Lenard criticized the INS for detaining the Muslim cleric without allowing him or his attorneys the opportunity to review or rebut the speculative evidence that purportedly links him to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a group the United States government has designated as “terrorist.”

Although Judge Lenard agreed with Al-Najjar’s defense team that his due process rights were violated, she did not order his release, but remanded the matter to the Judge McHugh. In October, Judge McHugh ruled that the INS failed in a ten-day public hearing to show that Al-Najjar posed any threat to national security.

Despite these significant legal gains, Al-Najjar continues to remain locked up in a Manatee County Downtown Facility, north of Sarasota, away from family and friends for yet another day. He is one of about two dozen immigrants detained on secret evidence. Most of the cases involve Muslims or Arabs who are alleged threats to national security, despite having never been charged with criminal activity.

The ACLU is strongly opposed to the government’s use of secret evidence on the grounds that it violates due process rights and virtually eliminates any chance to mount an adequate defense. In December 1999, the ACLU secured the release of Egyptian immigrant Nasser K. Ahmed, an Egyptian man from Brooklyn who was detained in a Manhattan jail for nearly four years based on “secret evidence” the government refused to reveal.

In addition to its legal work on the issue of secret evidence, the ACLU is part of an effort to fix three 1996 laws that have already deprived thousands of immigrants of their civil and Constitutional rights.

The campaign — Fix ’96: Restore America’s Tradition as a Nation of Immigrants and a Nation of Just Laws — was launched at a July 28 news conference by a diverse collection of national organizations. In addition to the ACLU, groups that have endorsed the campaign initiated by the National Immigration Forum include the U.S. Catholic Conference, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Anti-Defamation League and dozens of others.

The lawsuit, Al-Najjar v. Janet Reno, was brought by the ACLU of Florida, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Nationalities Service Center and Tampa-based attorney Martin Schwartz on behalf of Dr. Al-Najjar, a former professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Find out more about the campaign and what you can do to stop the use of secret evidence at http://archive.aclu.org/features/fix96.html.

For an on-line version of the motion filed today in federal court, visit the ACLU of Florida website at http://www.aclufl.org./alnajjarmotion1208.html

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