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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 September, 2003, 00:14 GMT 01:14 UK
Fear as human shield faces jail

By Fergal Parkinson
BBC correspondent in Florida

Faith Fippinger
Fippinger will now probably lose her home, her pension, even her freedom

Sitting in her modest two-bedroom home on the west Florida coast, Faith Fippinger begins to cry as she talks about the prospect of going to jail.

This spring, the 62-year-old retired schoolteacher decided to travel to Iraq as a human shield.

To many she is a humanitarian, but in the eyes of the US Government she is a criminal.

By the standards of most Americans Faith Fippinger is well-travelled.

Over the past few years she has visited almost every continent and the souvenirs dotted around the house prove it.

High penalties

But it was her decision to travel to Iraq to try to prevent the war which has got her into trouble.

Human shields are welcomed in Baghdad
Dozens of people travelled to Iraq as human shields
"War is carnage, I understand that," she says.

"War is death, I understand that. In my opinion though this war was illegal, unjust and unnecessary," she told me.

For three months she travelled around Iraq, guarding oil refineries, teaching in schools and working in hospitals.

But when she returned home there was a letter waiting for her from the US Treasury Department.

"It was a requirement to send information as to why I was in Iraq," she says.

"It also said the penalties for being there could be as high as a million dollars and up to 12 years in jail."

'Freedom of speech'

By going to Iraq Faith Fippinger had broken the US economic embargo on Iraq, which had been in place for many years.

The letter explained that by travelling to the country and spending money there, Miss Fippinger was now liable for prosecution.

It's in regimes like Saddam Hussein's where that freedom is not allowed
Faith Fippinger
Supporters argue that she was simply exercising her right to freedom of travel and speech and accuse the Bush administration of trying to make an example of her.

"You know, part of what democracy is all about is that you can have varying opinions and that we can express them," she says.

"It's in regimes like Saddam Hussein's where that freedom is not allowed."

But the US Treasury Department is standing firm.

In a statement to the BBC it said that to express one's freedom of speech is a right but breaking the law of the United States is not a privilege.

It says it fully intends to proceed with her prosecution.

For travelling to Iraq Faith Fippinger will now probably lose her house, her pension and go to jail.

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