Camden, N.J. – Brothers Eljvir, Dritan and Shain Duka were convicted eight years ago of participating in a plot they had literally never heard of, in an atmosphere of Islamophobia fueled by ambitious politicians and sensationalist media headlines. The Duka brothers received life sentences plus 30 years for their disputed role in a government-manufactured “conspiracy” to attack Fort Dix, a U.S. military base in New Jersey.
On May 31, U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler, the same judge who sentenced the brothers originally, denied their appeal for relief post-conviction because of ineffective counsel. The three Muslim men argued their convictions should be overturned, since their attorneys improperly prevented them from testifying during their 2008 trial.
Mohamad Schnewer, Serdar Tatar and the three Duka brothers were entrapped by two informants in an FBI sting operation for the alleged plot. The U.S. attorney prosecuting the case was Chris Christie, now governor of New Jersey and a supporter of right-wing presidential candidate Donald Trump.
On June 1, Duka family members, area Muslim residents and community activists from Philadelphia, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and New York gathered at the Federal Courthouse in Camden, N.J., to express outrage at the judge’s denial of the brothers’ appeal.
Robert Boyle, Shain Duka’s attorney, said in a press statement read to the press: “The government used highly paid informants that manipulated the Dukas into making theoretical statements that the government then used to charge them with terrorism. No act was ever committed by them. No act was ever planned by them. Nor did they agree to commit any illegal acts. The result is that hard-working young men with devoted families are serving sentences of life without parole. This case was not about fighting terrorism. It was about feeding fear.”
In front of two large, colorful banners, supporters held black and white placards reading: “Justice for the Ft. Dix 5. Islamophobia convicted the Duka brothers. Free them now.”
The Free the Fort Dix 5 Support Committee organized the press conference in less than 24 hours. Muhammed Malik of the FFD5SC told the two dozen participants: “Continue to come out and oppose Islamophobia, which is attempting to entrap people, which is attempting to reduce Muslims to animals. We want to make sure we continue to stand up and fight back.”
Justice denied once again
The brothers’ appeal hearing, held in January, was limited to a narrow point of law: whether the men’s not testifying materially affected the outcome of the case. District Judge Kugler’s denial of their appeal came down to his belief in the credibility of the original lawyers rather than the word of the men he put in jail for life. Those lawyers said they offered to let the men testify. The men said they were denied the opportunity to speak to the jury in their own voices.
A statement by The National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms emphasized: “This decision further illustrates the injustice that Muslims have faced at the hand of the courts and makes it impossible to envision a legal system where Muslims have a legitimate chance at gaining justice. The NCPCF ardently believes in the innocence of these men and will continue to campaign on their behalf until they are released.”
Attorney Boyle, in a statement declaring Shain Duka’s intention to appeal again, said, “Those of us who are not Muslim must join with our Muslim brothers and sisters and others of good will to secure justice for the Dukas and other victims of government misconduct.”