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Al-Arian contempt charge is lifted
Lawyers say he could be deported by April.
By MEG LAUGHLIN, Times Staff Writer
Published December 14, 2007
With five months left to serve, Sami Al-Arian was subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury in Virginia. When he refused, a federal judge held him in contempt in late November 2006. Al-Arian's sentence was put on hold, while he waited for 13 months.
Sami Al-Arian no longer is being held on a civil contempt charge in a Virginia jail.
A federal judge lifted the charge Thursday, which starts the clock ticking again on Al-Arian's prison sentence.
If everything goes on schedule, Al-Arian could be released and deported in April.
"We're very relieved; we're finally starting to see a little light at the end of the tunnel," said his son, Abdullah, 27.
In December, 2005, after a six-month trial in federal court in Tampa, a jury acquitted Al-Arian on eight terrorism-related charges and deadlocked on nine.
Five months later, as part of a plea agreement, the former USF computer professor pleaded guilty to aiding associates of a terrorist group in nonviolent activities.
He received a 57-month sentence but was scheduled to be released 11 months later, having spent almost four years in solitary confinement without being convicted.
With five months left to serve, Al-Arian was subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury in Virginia. When he refused, a federal judge held him in contempt in late November 2006. Al-Arian's sentence was put on hold, while he waited for 13 months.
During this time, he refused to testify before two grand juries. In protest, he went on a hunger strike in jail and lost 55 pounds.
Repeatedly, his attorneys pointed to court transcripts and argued that federal prosecutors in Tampa said during plea-agreement negotiations that Al-Arian would not have to testify before a grand jury in Virginia. But a federal judge did not find the oral agreement binding.
Thursday, Al-Arian's attorney, Jonathan Turley, issued this statement: "We are obviously gladdened by the lifting of civil contempt status from our client, Dr. Sami Al-Arian. ... The use of civil contempt to prolong his punishment has been a shocking abuse of the system by the Justice Department."