July 21, 2006
New York-based Palestinian activist Farouk Abdel-Muhti, 57, died suddenly of a heart attack two years ago today on July 21, 2004, after speaking at an anti-war forum for the Philadelphia Ethical Society. His death came 100 days after he was released from immigration detention. Federal agents and the New York City police arrested Abdel-Muhti in April 2002. He was illegally held for two years by BICE (formerly the Immigration & Naturalization Service).
Abdel-Muhiti was working as a producer with the New York radio station WBAI at the time of his detention. His attorney Jeff Fogel made the following statement on a WBAI press release:
“Even though he didn’t have lawful immigration status in the US for the last 35 years…Farouk never missed a protest. He was never in hiding even though he was ‘illegal.’ Yet it was his activism that got him arrested in April 2002. It was only once he started arranging for radio interviews with Palestinians in the West Bank and doing live on-air translations of those interviews on WBAI that he was actually arrested by the Absconder Task Force- a group that’s been basically responsible for solely arresting Muslim men of South Asian or Arab extraction.
The government knew from day one of his 718-day detention that they would not be able to deport him. They knew that his detention was illegal, that he was a man without a country- someone they could never deport from the US. Yet they held onto him far longer than the six months that the Supreme Court had said that they could presumptively hold on to detainees while trying to deport them to their home countries.”
The US government held Abdel-Muhti in a series of county and federal facilities for –in clear violation of his constitutional rights–and refused to release him until ordered by a federal district judge.
During his interrogation at 26 Federal Plaza, FBI and BICE officers tried to coerce him into giving names of people who had given aid to Palestinian organizations. When Abdel-Muhti refused, he was knocked to the floor and beaten by the agents. Farouk was not charged with terrorism or any crime. He was held on the basis of a 1995 deportation order. But partly because he was a stateless Palestinian, the BICE (INS) could not deport him.
Abdel-Muhti spent 250 days in solitary confinement. He suffered beatings and medical neglect by officials who consistently denied him his high blood pressure and thyroid medications. While incarcerated, Abdel-Muhti continued to advocate on behalf of other immigrants illegally detained. He staged a hunger strike to bring attention to the inhumane prison conditions in the US that the detainees were subjected to.
We remember Abdel-Muhti’s lifelong struggle for peace, social justice and the human rights of Palestinians, immigrants and workers everywhere, as we continue his work.
We call for an end to the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, an end to the US-backed Israeli assault in Gaza & Lebanon; an end to extraordinary rendition, torture and illegal detention. We also call for the civil rights of those detained to be protected.