Victory for Free Speech on Behalf of the Disenfranchised
PHILADELPHIA, PA (November 8, 2012) The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) are celebrating with Muhammad Salah and his family after the U.S. this week removed him from the “Specially Designated Terrorist” list after 17 years of persecution.
In September, AFSC and ADC joined a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s restrictions on their First Amendment rights to engage in “coordinated advocacy” with Mr. Salah, a U.S. citizen living in Chicago whose situation cried out for public attention, advocacy and resolution. The lawsuit also asserted that Salah’s Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights had been violated and requested relief. Just prior to the government’s November 6 deadline for responding to the legal challenge, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) quietly announced his removal from the list.
AFSC, a Quaker peace and social justice organization, and ADC, a grassroots Arab-American civil rights and civil liberties organization, were represented in the case by attorneys from Hughes, Socol, Piers, Resnick, & Dym; the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Peoples Law Office. The suit challenged the government’s power to impose arbitrary restrictions on the groups’ First Amendment rights to follow their conscience and raise public awareness about government actions they believe to be unjust.
ADC and AFSC believed that the government’s treatment of Salah amounted to unnecessarily sweeping, cruel, and arbitrary punitive actions that were an egregious affront to the basic values of justice. Now both organizations, and all other concerned citizens and groups, are no longer restricted in their ability to advocate in coordination with Salah.
“This is not only a victory for Mr. Salah and his family – it is a victory for all communities. A strong message was sent, and that is all Americans are entitled to their due process and essential rights. Mr. Salah suffered at the hands of the government for nearly two decades, and we are happy to see this matter finally put to rest. It is our hope that the federal government takes a close look at their designation process and ends or drastically curtails the policy, understanding the ramifications it can have on the innocent, such as Mr. Salah,” says Abed A. Ayoub, ADC Legal Director.
“AFSC brought this case as a last resort, after OFAC failed to respond to reasoned appeals to a sense of justice and simple humanity. We are pleased to have been a part of a case that forced the government to retreat from this arbitrary use of a demonizing label,” says Shan Cretin, AFSC’s General Secretary (chief executive).
“A government must not be allowed to cultivate a climate of fear as justification for denying basic rights to a scapegoated group. Unfortunately, the U.S. has a history of exploiting fears around security as an excuse for selective persecution of Japanese-Americans, Native Americans, Jews, civil rights advocates, political dissidents, and most recently, U.S. citizens and residents of Arab descent,” says Shan Cretin. “We are dismayed that it took 17 years, but celebrate this victory with Mr. Salah and his family.”