By Karin Friedemann, TMO
Journey for Justice: Woman Walks Across NY State for Imamâ€™s Freedom
Lynne Jackson, from Project Salam website http://projectsalam.wordpress.com/
Lynne Jackson, cancer survivor and human rights activist with Project Salam and the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF), decided to walk 133 miles from Albany to Binghamton, New York in order to personally deliver a legal petition asking U.S. District Senior Judge Thomas McAvoy, who will hear Imam Yassin Arefâ€™s appeal for release, to consider new evidence that Aref was wrongfully convicted.
â€œI want the judge to know how much we care in Albany about Yassin Aref,â€ Jackson said.
Jackson told Democracy Now, â€œThe FBI targeted him because they thought he was an al-Qaeda agent when, in fact, he was not. And because this evidence was kept secret during the trial, the defense was unable to challenge that evidence. And this is why secret evidence is so bad… Iâ€™m going to hand-deliver signed petitions in support of Yassin Aref to the judge in Binghamton, New York.â€
Her long walk began Friday, July 12 with a rally at Masjid As-Salam. Jackson is expected to give a press conference and deliver the petition in Binghamton on the morning of July 23. Supporters along the way have walked with Jackson, spritzed her with water, and invited her into their homes.
From behind prison bars, Aref heard the news about Jacksonâ€™s journey. He wrote to her:
â€œDada Lynne, Last year I read Mandelaâ€™s book, â€œLong walk to freedom.â€ From that book, my nationâ€™s history and my own experience I learned that the road to freedom is long. Its journey is hard – needs a lot of work, sacrifices, patience and time. Itâ€™s very sad I am here surrounded by walls, fences, rules and polices. They prevent me from taking a road and walking toward my freedom. Thank you very much for doing that on my behalf! While I am not there, physically, to walk with you, I would like to assure you that my heart and mind are marching with you. Please be well and keep walking. Freedom is always there but will not come to people, people need to go and reach it. My best regard and sincere thanks to you all and to all the freedom and justice seekers in the world. Long live freedom. Sincerely, Yassinâ€
Lynne Jacksonâ€™s â€˜Journey for Justiceâ€™ has led her through beautiful countryside but there are no sidewalks between the small towns. After walking for a week on the slanted roadside, she developed a serious blister and was told by a doctor to stay off her feet. So on Day 8, Attorney Steve Downs suggested that she continue the next 25 miles of her journey by canoe.
Jackson was padding down the swift-flowing Susquahanna River rapids, marveling at the incredible scenery, when her companionâ€™s boat tipped sideways and became trapped by a fallen tree. Jackson writes in Project Salamâ€™s blog:
â€œI went over to help her, only to have my canoe caught in the same strong current. My canoe tipped sideways and filled with water. I went under and when my life vest pushed me back up, my head was stuck in the water under a tree. I was not a happy camper! Somehow, I got out from under the tree limb and I was able to stand up and cling to a branch to avoid being swept away any further.â€
Her husband Dan and the Sidney Volunteer Fire Department helped her ashore. Jacksonâ€™s canoe was destroyed and the petition was swept away by the rushing river.
Attorney Steve Downs was ahead of the group. His kayak had not capsized. Kathy Manley told TMO, â€œThe plastic bag with the petitions floated downstream and… Steve rescued the petitions.â€
â€œThe petitions are drying out as I write this,â€ jokes Jacksonâ€™s blog.
After drinking iced tea with curious locals, Jackson re-entered the river with a replacement boat and successfully finished her 25 mile goal of the day.
On Day 9, Jackson accepted a kind offer from former political prisoner Jack Gilroy to walk the last stretch of the journey on her behalf, due to her injured foot.
â€œThe Journey for Justice, besides being about bringing signatures on petitions to the court, is about people coming together to work for justice. I am so happy so many people wish to become involved,â€ said Jackson.
A march took place to the Binghamton Federal Building on July 23.
â€œThe reason I am doing this is Iâ€™m very concerned about our rights under the Bill of Rights and the use of secret evidence,â€ Jackson told Albanyâ€™s Times Union news.
One of Arefâ€™s attorneys, Kathy Manley explained to TMO: â€œWe always wondered why so many secret and outrageous things happened in this case. Now we know it was because the government had given the trial court – and the appeal court – classified false information saying that Yassin was in Al Qaeda – that he was also known as Mohammed Yassin, who was an Al Qaeda agent.
â€œEven Yassinâ€™s trial attorney who had a security clearance was never shown any of this secret evidence. This made the trial judge tell the jury that there were â€œgood and valid reasonsâ€ for targeting Yassin – which in turn made the jury afraid to acquit him completely, even though they did mostly acquit him, because there was no real evidence against him. This secret evidence also led the appeal judges to basically ignore our 200 page brief and write a short denial which got the facts wrong, got the law wrong and ignored most of our arguments.
â€œAfter Mohammed Yassin was killed in 2010, the FBI provided some of this information in response to Yassinâ€™s FOIA request, and they also moved him to a low security prison. So we think this case began as one of mistaken identity, in late 2002 when the government was desperately searching for any connection between Iraqis and Al Qaeda – they somehow decided Yassin was this other person. At some later point they realized they were wrong but did nothing to correct their earlier explosive false information.â€
Yassin Aref, an Iraqi refugee, was set up by an FBI sting operation in 2006 and falsely convicted in a highly biased â€œterrorismâ€ trial. He wrote his memoirs, â€œSon of Mountainsâ€ in jail. The book describes his life as a Kurd growing up in Saddam Husseinâ€™s Iraq, how his village was bombed, his life as a refugee, how the UN eventually sent him to America to start a new life, and how he then suddenly found himself a target of US government entrapment. Another book, â€œRounded Up: Artificial Terrorists and Muslim Entrapment After 9/11â€ by Shamshad Ahmad, describes in detail the FBIâ€™s attack on Albanyâ€™s Muslim community and their respected imam.
Aref, along with co-defendant and former pizzeria owner Mohammed Hossain, was sentenced to 15 years. Aref spent time at the CMU Terre Haute and CMU Marion before being moved to the general prison population. Formerly the imam of Masjid As-Salam in Albany, New York, Aref has received deep and abiding support from the local community, Muslims and non-Muslims, who firmly believe in his innocence.