Representative Luis Gutierrez is the latest congressperson from Illinois to send a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder questioning the FBI investigation of 23 Midwestern anti-war and international solidarity activists. He joins Illinois Representatives Jan Schakowsky and Danny Davis, as well as Representatives Keith Ellison (MN), David Price (NC), and Jim McDermott (WA).
In their letters, the six congressmen share their concerns that these activists are being targeted for participating in activities protected by the First Amendment. Gutierrez writes, “there is significant fear that the targeting of these activists will have a chilling effect on others who only seek to assemble and express themselves as protected under the Constitution.”
The latest attack on the activists’ civil rights was the freezing of Hatem Abudayyeh and his wife, Naima’s bank accounts on Friday, May 6 2011. Hatem Abudayyeh is the Executive Director of the Arab American Action Network in Chicago, and a long-standing and respected activist and community leader.
The targeted activists from Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan, are involved in a variety of peace and labor organizations including the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee, the Palestine Solidarity Group, and the Colombia Action Network. On September 24, 2010 the FBI initiated a rash of raids during which more than 70 federal agents burst into activists’ homes as well as one organization’s office, seizing their personal possessions. While no charges have been released, all 23 activists have been issued subpoenas to appear before a federal grand jury. The investigation centers on charges of “material support for a foreign terrorist organization.” Again, no official charges have been brought to bear on the activists.
CAIR-Chicago has been vocal in its opposition to this unfounded investigation. At a rally immediately following the raids on September 27, 2010 Executive Director Ahmed Rehab stated “This is a new low…This is an example of FBI overreach when it comes to activism or commentary on the (Middle East) conflict.”
In December, Communications Coordinator Amina Sharif spoke at a Press Conference at the Dirksen Federal Building in downtown Chicago. “Contrary to the accusations that these individuals were involved in terrorism-related activity, they are known in the community as peace advocates who fight to ensure that our country does not further human rights abuses,” said Sharif.
As the congressmen made clear in their letters, the FBI’s investigation appears to be targeting individuals based on their political views rather than any connection to a criminal federal investigation.