Albany: Common Council Calls For Justice for Muslims

Albany, NY – Activists gathered outside Albany City Hall Monday evening in support of pressuring federal prosecutors to review the case against two imprisoned Muslim men Capital District Bureau Chief Dave Lucas reports.

Albany residents Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain were caught up in a complex US government operation that resulted in their arrests in 2004 on terrorism-related charges. They were subsequently convicted and sent off to prison. A coalition of advocates marched on City Hall urging the Common Council to ask the federal Justice Department to take another look at the case. Other Muslim families and their supporters traveled to the Capital City in a show of solidarity with locals: they marched from the Washington Avenue Armory to Eagle Street where the Common Council was meeting. Lynn Jackson is a volunteer with the Muslim Solidarity Committee and Project Salam: Jackson says: "Why should the Albany Common Council pass this resolution? Because Muslim men were wrongfully prosecuted in Albany and sent to prison for lengthy sentences. How can we work on other issues if the federal government can just swoop down and take innocent men away and imprison them? What safety and security do we have if the bill of rights is so ignored? We must ask for the Justice Department to conduct an investigation into these cases of preemptive prosecution of Muslims as recommended by the Inspector General."

Family members and supporters of other Muslims preemptively prosecuted attended the event, including Lejla Duka, daughter of one of the Fort Dix 5 (from Cherry Hill, NJ), Alicia McWilliams, aunt of one of the Newburgh 4 (the FBI used the same "confidential informant" to entrap the Newburgh 4 as they did with the Albany case of Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain), and the sisters and friends of Betim Kaziu (from Brooklyn).

Common Council Member Dom Calsolaro introduced the resolution, co-sponsored by 6 other members, requesting that the U.S. Department of Justice implement the recommendation of its own Inspector General: to review all of the convictions of Muslims who have been preemptively prosecuted to determine whether these prosecutions met in all ways the high standards of truth, openness, fairness, and justice that are embodied in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The council's attention to the federal case isn't sitting well with long-time local political activist Joe Sullivan, who believes council members should be focused on city resident's concerns: "What about property tax relief for city homeowners and small businesses? What about consolidating city schools with city government, establishing one property tax roll to finance both, returning to K-8 neighborhood schools and making the Mayor and Council responsible and accountable for the performance of city schools?"

Dom Calsolaro argues the Aref-Hossain case is an "Albany issue" - In the end, a council majority voted to ask the Justice Department to take another look at the controversial Albany case. Copies of the resolution that passed will go Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer and Congressman Paul Tonko... Calsolaro is also writing a personal letter to President Barack Obama.