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Palestinian Activist Freed on Bond

November 4, 2003

CHICAGO (AP) _ A Palestinian activist jailed for refusing to testify about the militant group Hamas was freed Monday on $874,500 bond after a two-month hunger strike.

``I thank God and my community and my attorneys, but I should not have been in jail in the first place,″ Abdelhaleem Hasan Abdelraziq Ashqar told reporters.

The former Howard University business professor said his weight had dropped from 180 pounds to 145 pounds during the hunger strike. He was fed intravenously by court order and said his jailing was the result of ``an Israeli witch hunt.″

Ashqar, 45, surrendered Sept. 5 to start a civil contempt sentence for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating fund-raising activities on behalf of Hamas. He now faces criminal contempt charges.

Federal prosecutors say that among other things they want to ask Ashqar if he himself is a member of Hamas, which the government has declared a terrorist organization.

Prosecutors say Ashqar would have to leave the country even if acquitted of the contempt charge and faces a long sentence if convicted. They opposed his release on bond.

Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys freed Ashqar after eight supporters posted their homes worth a total of $874,500.

Ashqar headed to a Chicago hospital to recuperate from his hunger strike. After that, he will be under house arrest with an electronic monitoring bracelet, allowed to leave his suburban Virginia home only to visit his mosque, lawyer and doctor.

Ashqar was given immunity from prosecution for anything he might admit to the grand jury, but still refused to testify.

``I think I am entitled to defend my cause and to defend the rights of Palestinians in the United States and anywhere,″ he said.

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