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National conference opposing FBI repression held in Chicago

Muslims, peace and solidarity activists speak out against government repression

Published Nov 12, 2011 10:39 AM

The National Conference of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression was held Nov. 5 at the Kent College of Law in Chicago. Its aim was to build a broad-based alliance against increasing U.S. government political repression. The all-day gathering featured speakers from anti-war and other leftist organizations and Puerto Rican and other Latino/a, African-American, Muslim, Middle Eastern and Asian communities.

They came together from around the country to tell of cases of racial and religious profiling, preemptive prosecution, political persecution and prisoner abuse that are taking place nationally.

This event was organized by the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, which sprang up in late 2010 following FBI raids in September on anti-war and international solidarity activists’ homes in the Midwest and other regions of the country. The government subpoenaed 24 people to appear before a federal grand jury in Chicago as part of an investigation into purported “material aid to terrorists.”

All the subpoenaed activists have refused to testify and assert that they have done nothing wrong. Organizations being targeted include the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee, the Minnesota Coalition for a People’s Bailout, and Students for a Democratic Society.

This conference brought together victims of FBI attacks on left and anti-war activists and members of Arab, Muslim and Latino/a movements who have been selected for prosecution in the U.S. so-called “war on terrorism.”

A CSFR pre-conference document reads, “While the White House lectures Arab and Muslim leaders in the Middle East about democracy and the treatment of their citizens, we experience FBI raids, grand jury investigations and outrageous criminal charges.” (www.stopfbi.net)

CSFR organizers Sarah Smith and Tom Burke, who were both subpoenaed by the federal grand jury, opened the conference. They welcomed the delegates and stressed the importance of building a coalition to halt the escalating law-enforcement, intelligence and grand jury efforts to stifle dissent against U.S. domestic and foreign policies.

Carlos Montes, a veteran Chicano liberation movement activist, was warmly welcomed and commended for his decades of work in education, land reclamation and international solidarity. He recounted his involvement in the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968 in Washington, the Chicano student walkouts of the late 1960s and the Chicano Moratorium Movement against the Vietnam war.

“I am being targeted due to my years of work in the anti-war movement,” Montes said.

Los Angeles Sheriff Department officers under the aegis of the FBI raided Montes’ home on May 17. They confiscated his computer, cell phone and documents dealing with his political activism. He faces trumped-up charges supposedly related to violations of California’s firearms laws.

Pattern of persecution & selective prosecution

Jeff Mackler, a United National Antiwar Committee steering committee member, brought solidarity from the peace movement to the conference. UNAC was formed in July 2010 at a national conference that drew more than 800 delegates in Albany, N.Y.

Jim Fennerty, of the National Lawyers Guild, discussed the role of the FBI and federal grand jury in the current wave of government repression. He has been working on the defense campaign of those targeted in the September 2010 raids.

A panel discussion featured Alejandro Molina, a Puerto Rican activist representing the National Boricua Human Rights Network, and Ali Al-Arian, the son of Dr. Sami Al-Arian, who served years in prison — and then was under house arrest — even though there were never any guilty verdicts on charges stemming from his political organizing in support of the Palestinian people.

Another speaker was Sharmin Sadequee, the sister of Shifa Sadequee, who is serving a sentence in U.S. federal prison after being kidnapped in Bangladesh on spurious charges of aiding a terrorist conspiracy. Another panelist was Noor Elashi, the daughter of Ghassan Elashi, a Holy Land Foundation official, who the government convicted of assisting Palestinian resistance forces.

Also related to the Palestine question, Asmaa Ashqar told of her spouse, Abdelhaleem Ashqar, who was convicted and sentenced to years in prison for refusing to lie about his associates. Hatem Abudayyeh, of the U.S. Palestinian Community Network, who was subpoenaed and his bank account frozen, stressed the right of U.S. residents to oppose Washington’s foreign policy toward Israel.

“It is the United States that determines the policies of the state of Israel and not vice-versa,” Abudayyeh said. He explained the importance of identifying funding sources for Israel inside U.S. ruling circles.

Other speakers included Steff Yorek, one of the targeted Minneapolis activists; Michael Deutsch, of the People’s Law Office in Chicago; Steve Downs, of Project SALAM; and Kay Guinane, of the Charity and Security Network. Shahid Buttar, of the Bill of Rights Committee; Meredith Aby, of CSFR; and Prexy Nesbitt, a Columbia College professor and longtime Southern African solidarity activist, also addressed the conference.

Videotaped solidarity statements were shown from Professor Cornell West, of Princeton University, and Robert Meeropol, the son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed in 1953 on false charges of espionage.

Workshops were held on immigrant rights, political repression and the Occupy Wall Street movement, strategies for struggles, and organizing efforts against the May 12 G-8 and NATO summits in Chicago and the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

Chicago’s police have arrested hundreds of anti-capitalist activists and banned the use of Grant Park for the Occupy Chicago encampment.

The Chicago administration has refused to respond to permit requests for marches at the May 2012 G-8 and NATO summits, and is threatening to mobilize the entire 13,000-member police force to carry out mass arrests. Mayor Rahm Emanuel was President Barack Obama’s chief-of-staff.

In the concluding session, a resolution was passed in solidarity with Carlos Montes. The body agreed to build a united front against U.S. homeland security repression and reaffirmed a pledge to resist government raids and subpoenas.

Gov’t copies, returns thousands of documents to activists

Just prior to the conference, the federal government responded to a legal motion filed on behalf of Jess Sundin demanding the returning of materials seized in the September 2010 raids. The FBI announced that it had copied more than 50,000 documents taken during the raids, and was returning the seized materials to their owners. On Nov. 1, the last batch of documents was returned.

Minneapolis organizer Jess Sundin said, “This is a serious violation of our right to organize against war. … The FBI took the computers from the office of the Anti-War Committee and made copies of lists that include thousands of our supporters. They copied our personal papers, political materials and books from my home. They are stepping all over our rights to organize, associate and speak out.” (www.stopfbi.net)

These attacks on broad segments of the working class and organizations that represent the interests of the proletariat and the oppressed domestically and internationally are designed to intimidate and demoralize those who seek to speak out against injustice in the U.S. and worldwide. All sectors within the popular classes, the nationally oppressed, civil rights and human rights organizations must defend those who are victims of political repression, profiling and selective prosecution.

With the rising tide of the mass movements in the U.S., Europe, North Africa and Latin America, the right to organize and demonstrate must be upheld. The ruling class, which feels threatened by the upsurge in political struggles, will act even more desperately to halt the trend toward mass mobilizations, rebellions and general strikes.