Miami Federal Court to Consider Government's Use of "Secret Evidence" in Detention of Academic

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
April 17, 2000 12:00 am

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MIAMI, FL — At a hearing scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, the American Civil Liberties Union and other rights groups will argue that the practice of detaining people on the basis of secret evidence is unconstitutional and that the federal government has no authority under immigration law to do so.

The lawsuit, Mazen Al Najjar v. Janet Reno, was brought by the ACLU of Florida, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Nationalities Service Center on behalf of former University of South Florida professor Dr. Mazen Al Najjar.

“Jailing someone on the basis of secret evidence is inconsistent with justice and the basic principles of our legal system,” said Andy Kayton, Legal Director of the ACLU of Florida. “If you do not know what you are accused of, how can you defend yourself?”

Dr. Al Najjar has never been charged with any criminal conduct or terrorist activity and has been detained for the last three years on evidence the government has kept secret from him and his attorneys regarding his alleged political association with the Palestine Islamic Jihad, a group the United States government has designated as “terrorist.” Judge Lenard has ordered that the federal government transport Dr. Al Najjar, who is being held in the Manatee County Downtown Facility north of Sarasota, to Miami for tomorrow’s hearing.

Dr. Al Najjar’s detention began on May 19, 1997 when the INS and FBI arrested him at his home with his wife and their three U.S. citizen daughters watching. This action came on the heels of an immigration judge’s decision denying Dr. Al Najjar and his wife asylum and other benefits under immigration law. Dr. Al Najjar has lived in the United States as a student, professor and religious and community activist for the past 15 years.

The hearing will be held before U.S. District Judge Joan A. Lenard in the 7th floor courtroom of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, 301 N. Miami Ave., in Miami.

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