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Friday, 23 August, 2002, 21:28 GMT 22:28 UK
US deports Palestinian academic
Al-Najjar (L) and al-Arian in 2000
Al-Najjar (l) says he is being persecuted for his views
A Palestinian university professor has been deported from the United States after being accused of having links with the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad.

Forty-five year old Mazen al-Najjar - who taught at the University of South Florida - had been detained without charge for much of the past five years.


Do I have rights or don't I have rights? Right now it seems like a majority of the people think 'No, you don't have rights because you don't agree with us.'

Sami al-Arian
Human rights groups have accused the government of acting unconstitutionally.

Mr al-Najjar's brother-in-law, Sami Al-Arian, is facing a court case in Florida where his employers at the same university want to sack him because of alleged links to terrorism.

The two men founded a now defunct Islamic studies think-tank, which the US Government considered a frontline organisation that raised funds for Islamic Jihad.

They deny any links to terrorists.

'Overstayed the visa'

Mr al-Najjar, who has a doctorate in engineering and once taught Arabic language classes at the university, was detained on the basis of secret government allegations of links to militant groups.

He was first arrested in 1997 by the immigration authorities, released in 2000, but re-arrested in November 2001 and held until his deportation.

According to officials he had overstayed his visa.


This issue of academic freedom, for both men, is troubling

Joe Hohenstein, al-Najjar's lawyer
Bahrain is said to have given him a tourist visa.

His family have stayed behind.

Mr al-Arian has been in the US since 1975.

University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft said earlier this week that she wanted to fire Mr al-Arian because he supported militant groups and had raised funds for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

He denies the charges and has vowed to fight the order.

"I'm an Arab, I'm Palestinian, I'm a Muslim. That's not a popular thing to be these days," he told a news conference on Thursday.

"Do I have rights or don't I have rights?

"Right now it seems like a majority of the people think 'No, you don't have rights because you don't agree with us.'

"We will continue to fight this. I believe the issue is still academic freedom, the right to espouse views however unpopular," he added.

Unconstitutional

Lawyers and human rights groups are seeing the case as a civil liberties issue.

Randall Marshall of the American Civil Liberties Union said that holding Mr al-Najjar on secret evidence was unconstitutional, and that the "10 months that he spent in solitary confinement was nothing more than the raw exercise of government power".

"This issue of academic freedom, for both men, is troubling," one of Mr Al-Najjar's defence lawyers said.

"It's very distressing that (the university authorities) are moving the way they are," Joe Hohenstein.

"In both cases, the question is: 'Can we fire someone because we don't like what they said?'"


Key stories

European probe

Background

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See also:

23 Jul 02 | Americas
26 Jun 02 | Americas
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30 Jun 01 | Americas
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