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Back Activities Alerts Action Alert: Holy Land 5 – Sentenced for Funding the Oppressed

Action Alert: Holy Land 5 – Sentenced for Funding the Oppressed

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Image from: http://www.freedetainees.org/2010/03/27/the-holy-land-five/

Help the Holy Land 5 detainees by campaigning for their release

Contents

1. Action Required
2. Summary
3. Background
4. Sample Letters
5. Addresses for Sample Letters

1. Action Required

Please write to the Foreign Secretary of your country and urge him to actively campaign for the release of the Holy Land 5 detainees, who were unjustly sentenced from 15 to 65 years in prison for a crime they have never committed. Please also write to the Holy Land 5 detainees and offer words of encouragement and support and to your minister for foreign affairs demanding their release.

2. Summary

The Holy Land 5 were the top personnel running the biggest Islamic charity in America, the Holy Land Foundation, established primarily to serve the oppressed Palestinians in the Middle East. Initially set up by Ghassan Elashi (chairman), the charity was unjustly dismantled and had its assets frozen after it was wrongly designated as a terrorist group. After two unfair trials, the five men were sentenced from 15 to 65 years in prison and remain detained in CMUs to this day.

3. Background

The case of the Holy Land 5 is a case of extreme injustice, reflecting, on a larger scale, the misdemeanour of the US government in targeting Islamic charities on the pretext of the ‘war on terror’.

The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) was an Islamic charity established by Palestinian-American Ghassan Elashi primarily to support Palestinians in Lebanon, Jordan and  Occupied Palestine through various projects including ‘orphan and family sponsorship programs, back-to-school funding, hospital building and home reconstruction’. HLF also provided aid to countries including Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo, Chechnya, and Turkey after natural disasters and wars and in the US during the aftermath of Iowa floods, Texas tornadoes and the Oklahoma City Bombing. HLF also ran volunteer-based services throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas. HLF became the largest Islamic charity in the US and had an annual budget of around $14 million. It had offices in California, New Jersey, Illinois, the West Bank and Gaza and had representatives scattered throughout the US.

However, in December 2001, HLF was implicated in supporting terrorism and had its assets frozen when President Bush designated it as a terrorist organisation for allegedly raising money for Hamas which was claimed to be used by Hamas to ‘support schools and indoctrinate children to grow up to be suicide bombers’ and to ‘recruit suicide bombers and to support their families’. Apparently the designation was based on flawed evidence including ‘incorrect and misleading translations of documents and tape-recorded conversations’.

All charges of direct support to Hamas were dropped before the beginning of the criminal trial in 2007 and the prosecution admitted that all of the HLF funds went to charitable causes such as zakat committees. However, the government held that these committees were somehow controlled by Hamas and distributed aid to parties involved with Hamas. Elashi and his four co-defendants, Shukri Abu-Baker (HLF C.E.O.), Abdulrahman Odeh (New Jersey office director), Mohammad El-Mezain (California office director) and Mufid Abdulqader (HLF volunteer), categorically deny all charges and contend that they funded legitimate humanitarian aid in Palestinian territories.

During the trial, witness accounts and documentary evidence lead to mounting proofs in favour of the defendants such as the fact that the Zakaat committees that HLF is accused of supporting have received aid from other renowned charities as well such as International Committee of Red Cross and United Nations Relief and Work Agency.  Also there was ttestimony by formal consul general at the US Consulate General in Jerusalem, Edward Abington, that he personally visited the named Zakaat committees and received no information of their involvement with Hamas.

The US Treasury relied on certain pieces of information in designating HLF as a terrorist group which were inconclusive such as their claim that HLF aided a hospital in Jenin, West Bank but failed to mention that US Agency for International Development had also funded the same hospital at another occasion. Further, the claim that HLF provided financial support to 400 Palestinian deportees in Lebanon in 1992-93 but the Red Cross as well as other countries supported them too.

The criminal trial revealed serious flaws in the FBI summary of a 1996 wiretapped conversation which attributed Abu Baker to have made anti-Semitic and inflammatory statements since it did not match actual transcripts. Defence team only received 10 percent of the declassified recordings and their requests for the full 10 years of surveillance tapes for review was subsequently denied by Judge A. Joe Fish

The 2007 criminal trial was declared a mistrial by the judge as the eight-man, four-woman jury deadlocked on most of the 197 counts against the five defendants, returning zero guilty verdicts.

The retrial on 24 November 2008, found the five men guilty on all 108 counts of ‘material support to terrorism, money laundering, conspiracy and tax fraud’. The prosecution still admitted that all HLF funds were humanitarian relief to local charities not related to Hamas; however the conviction still went through. The defendants were not allowed to review their own wiretapped statements that they had made over years because they were classified. Further alleged statements by co-conspirators were used as evidence as well – ‘nobody knew who wrote them; nobody knew when they were written.’ Formal Dallas federal prosecutor Tom Melsheimer commented after the convictions, ‘I think this case proves that, with enough effort, the federal government can convict really anyone.’

On 27 May 2009, HLF defendants were sentenced with prison terms ranging from 15 to 65 years. Elashi was handed down a 65 year sentence. In May 2010, four of the Holy Land 5 were transferred to the harsh life of the CMUs so that their communications could be closely monitored. El-Mezain and Baker are being held at the Terre Haute, Indiana facility whereas Elashi and Abdulqader are detained at the US Penitentiary, Marion, Illinois, according to reports. All their calls and mails are carefully monitored and they are required to speak in English when dealing with outsiders.

On 29 October 2012, the Supreme Court declines to hear the Holy Land 5 case without any explanation. Their decision marks the end of the judicial process for the detainees, yet the struggle for their freedom continues by the defence team and supporters. A press release by the Muslim Legal Fund of America commented, "Attorneys for the five defendants and representatives from MLFA are evaluating all remianing options and will announce a decision on how they will proceed soon."

Please write to the Holy Land 5 and express your support. Further, please write to your foreign secretary urging him to raise this case at the highest levels of the international community. For further details about the case please visit http://www.ihrc.org.uk/publications/briefings/9409-ghassan-elashi-and-the-hlf-hostages-to-zionism-in-the-usa or visit http://freedomtogive.com/

4. Sample Letters

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Sample letters are given below for your convenience. Please note that model letters can be sent directly or adjusted as necessary to include further details. If you receive a reply to the letter you send, we request you to send a copy of the letter you send and the reply you received, to IHRC. This is very important as it helps IHRC to monitor the situation with regards to our campaigns and to improve upon the current model letters.

a) Sample letter to Foreign Secretary

[Name of Foreign Secretary of Your Country]

For UK campaigners, please find address of Foreign Secretary below:

[Your name]

[Your address]

Rt Hon William Hague MP

Foreign Secretary

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

King Charles Street

London

SW1A 2AH

private.office@fco.gsi.gov.uk

[Date]

Dear Mr. Hague

Re: Holy Land 5 – unjustly convicted and sentenced for donating to the needy

I am writing with deep concern about the case of extreme injustice committed by the US government for dismantling the biggest Islamic charity in the US, the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), and sentencing its top officers under the pretext of supporting terrorism.

The HLF was established by Palestinian-American Ghassan Elashi primarily to support Palestinians in Lebanon, Jordan and the Occupied Palestine through various projects including ‘orphan and family sponsorship programs, back-to-school funding, hospital building and home reconstruction’. HLF also provided aid to countries including Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo, Chechnya, and Turkey after natural disasters and wars and in the US during the aftermath of Iowa floods, Texas tornadoes and the Oklahoma City Bombing. HLF also ran volunteer-based services throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas. Being the largest Islamic charity in the country, it had offices in California, New Jersey, Illinois, the West Bank and Gaza and had representatives scattered throughout the US.

On their website, the HLF team clearly stated their purpose:

"Our mission is to find and implement practical solutions for human suffering through humanitarian programs that impact the lives of the disadvantaged, disinherited, and displaced peoples suffering from man-made and natural disasters."

However, in a case of blatant injustice, the US government designated HLF as an alleged supporter of Hamas in Palestine without any evidence whatsoever to back its claims. Apparently the designation was based on flawed evidence including incorrect and misleading translations of documents and tape-recorded conversations.

The five men, namely, Ghassan Elashi (chairman of HLF), Shukri Abu-Baker (HLF C.E.O.), Abdulrahman Odeh (New Jersey office director), Mohammad El-Mezain (California office director) and Mufid Abdulqader (HLF volunteer), categorically deny all charges and contend that they funded legitimate humanitarian aid in Palestinian territories. Before their first criminal trial, the prosecution indeed dropped all charges related to their alleged support of terrorism and instead held that the committees they funded were somehow controlled by Hamas and distributed aid to parties involved with Hamas. In the criminal trials that ensued, the government failed to produce substantial evidence or witnesses to prove these charges.

Thus, in an utter disregard of lack of evidence and shocking miscarriage of justice, the Holy Land 5 were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 15 to 65 years.

In May 2010, four of the Holy Land 5 were transferred to the harsh life of the CMUs so that their communications could be closely monitored. El-Mezain and Baker are being held at the Terre Haute, Indiana facility whereas Elashi and Abdulqader are detained at the US Penitentiary, Marion, Illinois, according to reports. All their calls and mails are carefully monitored and they are required to speak in English when dealing with outsiders.

On 29 October 2012, the Supreme Court declined to hear the Holy Land 5 case without any explanation. Their decision marks the end of the judicial process for the detainees and may lead to a bleak future behind bars for a crime they have never committed or ever intended to commit.

I strongly urge you to raise this case to the highest level in the international community and campaign for these five men who were just trying to fulfil their obligation to their fellow human beings by funding the most deprived in our world. They are the best amongst us due to their concern for the oppressed yet they suffer the worst.

I strongly urge you to do your best in lobbying their case in the international community such as the UN and establish an effective campaign for their immediate release.

I await your positive response.

Yours sincerely,

[Your name]

b) Letter of Support to the Holy Land 5

Addresses:

Address for Ghassan Elashi:
Inmate Name & Register Number (see below)
USP MARION
U.S. PENITENTIARY
P.O. BOX 1000
MARION, IL 62959

Address for Shukri Abu-Baker:
Inmate Name & Register Number (see below)
USP TERRE HAUTE
U.S. PENITENTIARY
P.O. BOX 33
TERRE HAUTE, IN 47808

Address for Mohammad El-Mezain and Mufid Abdulqader:
Inmate Name & Register Number (see below)
FCI TERRE HAUTE
FEDERAL CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION
P.O. BOX 33
TERRE HAUTE, IN 47808

Address for Abdulrahman Odeh:
Inmate Name & Register Number (see below)
FCI OXFORD
FEDERAL CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION
PO BOX 1000
OXFORD, WI 53952

Inmate Name & Register Number:
Ghassan Elashi 29687-177
Shukri Abu-Baker 32589-177
Mufid Abdulqader 32590-177
Mohammad El-Mezain 92412-198
Abdulrahman Odeh 26548-050

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