NJ Protests Against Detention of Arabs and South Asians

Defending the Disappeared

Revolutionary Worker #1137, February 3, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org

"In the middle of the night, ten prison guards came into our dormitory with dogs. They pulled our roommate out of his bed and made him face the wall. They proceeded to kick him and punch him. They hit his head several times. When one of us spoke out to protest, they let the dog loose on that person too. One week later, the man who was severely beaten was GONE--DEPORTED."

M. Zahir (name changed to protect identity),
prisoner at Passaic County Jail in Paterson, NJ

On January 19 protests took place at two New Jersey prisons where hundreds of Arab, South Asian and Muslim men are being detained. These prisoners are among over 1,200 people who have been "disappeared" through government roundups since September 11. The government claims that this huge dragnet is necessary to "prevent terrorism." But, in fact, hundreds are being held for weeks or months on minor immigration violations.

One hundred and fifty people rallied at the Passaic County Jail in Paterson, and over a hundred people demonstrated at the Hudson County Jail in Jersey City. The demands of the protesters included the release of all detainees held on immigration violations, the repeal of the highly repressive Patriot Act which was passed after September 11, the repeal of the racist 1996 immigration law, and immediate access to legal representation for all detainees.

Of the over 1,200 men arrested since September 11, almost half are reportedly still being held. The government has refused to identify the prisoners. Some have not been heard from again after their arrests. Others have only been able to make a few phone calls to family members. Most have been held on visa violations; before September 11, people charged with such violations were usually released quickly. Many prisoners have reported beatings and other abuse. Only one person has been charged in connection with the September 11 attacks.

The Paterson protest was organized by DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving ["Desis" refers to people of South Asian descent--RW]), the Coalition for the Human Rights of Immigrants (CHRI), the Prison Moratorium Project and other groups. DRUM spokesperson Subash Kateel told the RW that the detainees themselves asked people on the outside to call for the protest to help build broad public awareness of their situation.

The Paterson protest began with a press conference in Union Square in New York City, where Uzma Neheed told her family's story. She and her husband Anser Mehmood are immigrants from Pakistan who have lived in the U.S. for 10 years. On September 27, the INS and FBI came to their house and arrested her brother. Less than a week later, the FBI came back to arrest her. Her husband told them to take him instead. Uzma hasn't seen either her husband or brother since. She doesn't know where her brother is and has only been able to speak to her husband a few times.

Uzma said, "They were treating them very badly. They were kicking them, and my husband told me he was bleeding all over. And why? He did not do any crime. They are treated like animals." Attorney Nancy Chang from the Center for Constitutional Rights and a representative from the South Asian Muslim organization Help & Hope were among others who spoke at Union Square.

The people who came were mostly South Asian, and they were joined by people of many different nationalities. Some of the organizations represented were the National Lawyers Guild, Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, Refuse & Resist!, Vieques Support Campaign, the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade and the International Action Center. After the press conference most people boarded buses for the trip to the Passaic County Jail.

There was a heavy police presence at the jail, where the prisoners were locked down. Dozens of cops were visible, some with horses and riot gear. The media reported that more were massed inside the jail.

Protesters denounced the unjust detentions over a bullhorn and chanted in different languages. Most of the prisoners knew about the protest, and afterwards many called DRUM to say their spirits were lifted by the demonstrators.

The Jersey City protest was organized by DRUM, CHRI, the Green Party, Veterans for Peace and others. The demonstrators marched around the Hudson County Jail; this is where Mohammad Rafiq Butt, an immigrant worker from Pakistan, died last November in custody under suspicious circumstances. An autopsy performed by his family showed he had multiple fractures and deep bruises suggesting that he was tortured.


The following are excerpts from statements by prisoners being held at Passaic County Jail, which were read at the press conference in Union Square and the protest at the jail. (The RW would like to thank DRUM for providing the statements. The prisoners' names have been changed to protect their identity.)

"America makes it so that we can only survive by leaving our countries and families to come here and then treats us like we are not human beings."

Q. Ali

"There are men here 50 and 60 years old, locked in small rooms who have not breathed fresh air in four months. They are charged with no crimes. THIS is a violation of HUMAN RIGHTS....

"IF THIS COUNTRY ALLOWS THIS KIND OF INJUSTICE, HOW CAN IT TALK ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS? All innocent people are INNOCENT--whether we are Asian, Arab, Christian or Muslim. There is no difference. We were innocent yesterday, today and will still be innocent tomorrow. But this country has now made us GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT. All we ask is that we should at least be allowed to leave this country with dignity."

M. Zahir

"All I can say about this jail is that it is the lowest standard of treatment a human being can get. After having been here for almost three months, I can face any kind of torture in the world. People are beaten here quite frequently--they are beaten for nothing. Many are beaten for refusing to eat food that is not halal because they are Muslim. Others are beaten and charged for praying by using their bedsheets as prayer rugs.

"I have always been an open-minded person. My wife and I are here legally to study and felt we could move to the U.S. for its opportunities. But after these past few months, we never want to return. America is NOT a free country for certain people anymore--it is NOT a free country if you are Muslim...

"Our main demand is this: Either let us go on bail or deport us immediately. Do not let us sit in cages forever for having committed no crimes."

J. Akter

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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