After 41 days of illegal detention, Palestinian activist Jaoudat Abouazza is now a free man in Canada. Abouazza was arrested May 30 by Cambridge police as part of a national wave of arrests targeting Palestinian activists, was held in INS custody, subjected to extreme conditions to the point of extracting his teeth by force, but never sold his principles or agreed to become a collobrator of the FBI despite extreme abuse and pressure. A strong public defense campaign involving hundreds of letters to INS officials, protests and visits and investigations has finally led to Jaoudat Abouazza's voluntary exit to Canada, where he is a citizen.
While in jail, Jaoudat was subjected to repeated beatings and arbitrary lockdowns and solitary confinement. On Sunday, June 16, guards removed him from his cell and forcibly held him down in a chair while several teeth were extracted from his mouth, and half of a broken tooth was left in his mouth to continue to bleed. Members of the Jaoudat Abouazza Defense Committee who visited that evening saw the wounds in Jaoudat's mouth. He was not provided with anti-biotics or pain killers. Two days later a delegation including the Executive Director of the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, the Canadian Consular Agent, and Jaoudat's state court lawyer visited him, and demanded medical records about the treatment Jaoudat had received. Subsequently Jaoudat's primary care physician Dr. Lana Habash attempted to visit and examine Jaoudat but was denied access to examine him. Dr. Habash requested all medical records, but received incomplete records from the jail which were inconsistent with each other and with what Jaoudat has told his doctor and Defense Committee members and what Defense Committee members have directly observed (for example, the records refer to only one extraction while Defense Committee members witnessed multiple wound sites). The supervising doctor refused to speak with Dr. Habash. Dr. Habash sent a letter of concern to Amnesty International outlining the conditions, and Amnesty International has sent a letter to the INS demanding an investigation.
Subsequently, the jail barred the Executive Director of the Civil Liberties Union of Mass and Jaoudat's state court lawyer from the jail. On subsequent visits they also barred the two Defense Committee members who had visited Jaoudat on the day the tooth extraction occurred. They also demanded he sign forms in English that he didn't fully understand, and when he refused, they threw him in solitary.
Jaoudat had a hearing before an immigration judge on June 27, which he attended by video conferencing. Over 100 supporters demonstrated outside and then packed the court. The judge ruled that Jaoudat be allowed to leave the country and return to Canada voluntarily rather than be deported. Jaoudat is a Canadian citizen of Palestinian origin. But the judge gave the INS 30 days to appeal, and denied bond, so Jaoudat remained at the mercy of the continuing mistreatment in INS custody at Bristol County Jail. Sheriff Hodgson of Bristol County Jail is well known for having tried to bring chain gangs back to Massachusetts. A prison rebellion occurred at the jail last week in response to Sheriff Hodgson beginning to charge inmates $5 rent a day deducted from their canteen funds, the debt accumulating as a negative canteen balance and continued on the books even after they get out if they return within two years.
The mass pressure on the INS and the jail resulted in antibiotics and pain killers finally being provided, and in the INS announcement on July 3 that they would not appeal the judge's voluntary exit order. But Jaoudat's ordeal was not over. He was removed from Bristol County Jail to another jail and kept incommunicado in isolation in a bare cell without furniture or clothes for 24 hours, and then in lockdown for 23 hours a day until his departure. He was not allowed to make any calls. Members of his Defense Committee who were accustomed to receive collect calls (the only way communication is allowed) from Jaoudat several times a day were seriously concerned, having no information on his condition or whereabouts from July 3 through July 8, when information was obtained from the Canadian Consulate that he would be flown to Canada on July 9. He is indeed now safely in Canada and has spoken by phone to many members of the Defense Committee.
But the struggle for justice for Jaoudat Abouazza is not over. While he was in INS custody, the INS defied a habeas corpus order from District Court requiring them to produce him for his district court trial on the original arrest, on vehicle registration issues. Because he wasn't there, the Judge, over the defense's strenuous objections, found Jaoudat in default and issued a warrant for his arrest. This default and warrant would prevent Jaoudat from entering the U.S. in the future, through no fault of his own strictly because of the INS action barring him from his own trial even via video conferencing, which is available in the jail. Furthermore, the Jaoudat Abouazza Defense Committee will not rest until those responsible for the inhuman abuse of Jaoudat Abouazza are brought to account.
It is clear that the Bush and Ashcroft sweeps and detentions have created thousands of Jaoudat Abouazzas throughout the U.S. Palestinians and political activists are being targeted. What happened to Jaoudat Abouazza is happening to so many more behind the closed doors without public knowledge. The Jaoudat Abouazza Defense Committee and the ANSWER coalition will continue to resist the new COINTELPRO and detentions and U.S.A. Patriot act abuses, secret evidence and warrantless searches and destruction of rights, until a detainees are released and full rights are restored to everyone.
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