x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Manhattan vigil for Muslim held prisoner for three years

Syed Fahad Hashmi, a Muslim US citizen, has been held in jail for three years under special rules reserved for convicts as he awaits trial.

NEW YORK // Far from Guantanamo Bay or anywhere else the United States might hold prisoners, a Muslim-American man has been held for almost three years in solitary confinement in a Manhattan jail. But he is not forgotten. About 100 supporters gathered on Monday night outside the federal facility where Syed Fahad Hashmi awaits trial. They were marking the 1,371st day since he was incarcerated and the 871st day since the implementation of the Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) under which he has been held in pretrial, 23-hour lockdown.

Mr Hashmi has not been tried on charges of helping al Q'aeda. Citing security needs, the prosecution has kept the details of its case vague and even withheld evidence from Mr Hashmi, said his brother, Faisal Hashmi. He was believed to be one of only five defendants held under SAMs before trial. Usually such measures, aimed at preventing prisoners from ordering violence or harming other inmates and expanded after September 11, are imposed after conviction.

"This is our 16th vigil and every time I feel elated that so many people come to support us in our time of need," Faisal Hashmi said. Syed Fahad Hashmi's much-delayed trial is scheduled to start next month. "We face an uphill struggle. The trial will be about trying to salvage justice," his brother said. Mr Hashmi, 30, has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of up to 70 years in prison. Accusations against him include helping Junaid Babar, a London friend, who has testified at terrorism trials in Britain and Canada since pleading guilty in 2004 to supporting al Qa'eda.

Babar was expected to testify at next month's trial and say Mr Hashmi held military clothes for him knowing they would be passed on to al Qa'eda in Afghanistan. Prosecutors say Mr Hashmi also gave his phone to Babar to call a convicted bombing conspirator and lent Babar money for a plane ticket to Pakistan to transport the clothing. Mr Hashmi was arrested by the British authorities at Heathrow airport, Lonon in June 2006 before being extradited to New York a year later.

Born in Pakistan, Mr Hashmi moved to the United States from Pakistan when he was three and he became a US citizen. His brother, a software consultant, said they were a professional family and their father was an accountant for New York City authorities before he retired. A graduate of City University of New York's Brooklyn College, he received a master's degree in international relations from London Metropolitan University in the UK.

Civil-rights activists and prominent academics have been outraged by the terms of his imprisonment. The vigils are organised by a number of groups including the New York chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, and Theatres Against War, a network of artists against what the previous White House had called its "war on terror". Meanwhile, a petition signed by hundreds of academics, including Henry Louis Gates of Harvard University, called Mr Hashmi's detention "draconian".

Mr Hashmi is held under 24-hour surveillance at the Metropolitan Correctional Centre in downtown Manhattan, close to where the World Trade Center was destroyed on September 11. Should the accused of those attacks ever be moved from Guantanamo to face trial in the United States, they could face a similar experience to Mr Hashmi's. He cannot participate in group prayer, communicate with other prisoners or the news media, or listen to or watch any news programmes. He may be visited by one family member every two weeks and those visits may not exceed 90 minutes or involve physical contact.

He can write only one letter to one family member a week, using no more than three sheets of paper. Jeanne Theoharis, a political science professor at Brooklyn College, remembered her former student as a lively and outspoken young man, passionate about politics and what he viewed as the growing harassment of Muslims. She said he wrote a paper on American Muslims and civil rights in the post-September 11 era.

"Ms Theoharis, one of the organisers behind his support campaign, said: "Whether he's innocent or not is not the main issue. We're supposed to have a system of rights and due process and the fact is we're standing here in New York, not in Afghanistan or Cuba, and he's a US citizen,. "All Americans need to be concerned about this and not say it's got nothing to do with me. If it happens to one person, it can happen to anyone."

@Email:sdevi@thenational.ae