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Speaking tour against political repression visits Gainesville

By Conor Munro

John Cline (left), Mick Kelly (center),  and Noor Elashi (right) speak out again

Gainesville, FL – On March 26, 60 students and community members gathered in Little Hall to hear three nationally known figures speak out against political repression. A packed house greeted Noor Elashi, John Cline, and Mick Kelly for the final date of their tour. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) organized the event to learn about the wave of U.S. government repression against Muslims, Arab-Americans and anti-war activists.

Noor Elashi spoke first and told the story of her father, Ghassan Elashi, unjustly imprisoned for sending charity to Palestine. Ghassan Elashi was the director of the Holy Land Foundation, the largest Muslim charity in America, which raised funds and provided food, medical care, shelter and education to countless people in need, both in Palestine and the U.S. Instead of being honored for humanitarianism, the Holy Land Five were charged under the Bush administration with ‘material support for terrorism.’

Noor went on to describe the inhumane conditions in which her father is held. Ghassan is imprisoned in a Communication Management Unit, which are specially designated punishment prisons for Muslims, Arab-Americans, and political activists. The conditions violate the prisoners’ human rights. “On one occasion they revoked our visitation rights for six months just because my father embraced my younger brother,” Noor explained to the shocked audience.

Attorney John Cline spoke about the legal case and explained that the first trial in Dallas ended in a hung jury. Jurors were not convinced of links between the health clinics and schools that received donations on the one hand, and the Palestinian Hamas movement that the U.S. government now opposes and criminalizes. The U.S. government was not satisfied. Prosecutor Barry Jonas won convictions in a second trial by using secret witnesses never identified to the defense, hearsay evidence and a shock video showing protesters in Palestine burning an American flag. This prejudiced the jurors.

Cline said, “There are cases where the criminal justice system fails and this is one of them. We all need to be severely outspoken about this injustice.”

Mick Kelly spoke about the FBI raid on his home and the 23 anti-war and Palestine solidarity activists who were subpoenaed to a grand jury in Chicago. Kelly recalled the day when he found out that the FBI had broken into his home and ransacked his belongings. The authorities claimed to be looking for evidence of ‘material support for terrorism.’

Kelly said, “Of course there wasn’t a shred of evidence for material support. Certainly not the kind of material support that the U.S. government gives to the occupiers of Palestine.”

When they finished, the speakers were given a huge round of applause. Those in attendance were saddened by the suffering of the Elashi family, outraged by the outcome of the case, and resolved to continue the fight back against government repression.

After the event Robbey Hayes, an organizer with Students for a Democratic Society said, “I thought the speeches were educational and motivating. We need to get organized and stop these attacks. Being anti-war is not a crime. Supporting Palestine is not a crime.”

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