(August 9, 1947 - July 21, 2004)
Farouk Abdel-Muhti, the New York City-based Palestinian activist who had recently prevailed in a two-year struggle against his illegal detainment by the US government, lost consciousness on the evening of July 21, just as he had finished speaking at an event in Philadelphia. Paramedics failed to revive him at the scene, and he was rushed to the hospital. He was pronounced dead at 10 PM. Abdel-Muhti, who suffered from high blood pressure and thyroid problems, was speaking at a panel entitled "Detentions and Torture: Building Resistance," at the Philadelphia Ethical Society. "We thought he just passed out," his fiancee Sharin Chiorazzo, who was at his side to the end, said in an interview on Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now. He would have celebrated his 57th birthday on August 9. A statement by his support group said: "While his health had not recovered from his two years in detention (including eight months in solitary confinement), no one suspected his life was at risk."
Abdel-Muhti was arrested April 26, 2002, at his home in Queens--just weeks after he began working at New York's WBAI-FM Radio, arranging live interviews with Palestinians on the West Bank. He was held in New Jersey and Pennsylvania jails until April 12, 2004, when Federal Judge Yvette Kane in Harrisburg ordered his release, describing him as a "stateless man" who could not be legally deported. For many in New York's activist community, Abdel-Muhti became a symbol of the post-9-11 sweeps that detained over 1,200.
"For those of us who knew him on the outside, he was a really sweet guy and you can't help but be impressed by the fact that he got through it psychologically, if not physically," his attorney Shayana Kadidal told the AP.
Abdel-Muhti spent much of his time behind bars in solitary confinement. Last Nov. 19 at New Jersey's Bergen County Jail, he was hit and shoved to the ground by guards, who came to confiscate his medication, correspondence and reading materials. Abdel-Muhti, who did not resist, was preparing a complaint about the incident when he was transferred out of the jail. In January 2003, he joined five other inmates in hunger strike for eight days at Passaic County Jail in Patterson, NJ, in protest of their detainment and harsh conditions--prompting his transfer to an isolation unit at York County Jail in Pennsylvania, far from his friends and supporters in New York.
Abdel-Muhti was born in 1947 in Ramallah, on the West Bank. He came to the US in the early 1970s, but overstayed his visa, working as a vendor and advocating Palestinian causes. The government tried to deport him in 1975 and in 1993, but Israeli authorities could not find his name on a list of residents of the Occupied Territories. He was to appear before an immigration judge in 1995, but missed his court date--because, he said, he was being treated in a hospital emergency room at the time. He had also lived briefly in Honduras without obtaining legal resident status, but authorities there refused to take him back following his detainment in 2002.
Abdel-Muhti's legal team maintained his detainment past six months was illegal under the Supreme Court's 2001 ruling in Zadvydas v. Davis, mandating the release of immigration detainees who prove undeportable. His release was hailed as a victory for habeas corpus rights.
Abdel-Muhti immediately returned to activism after his release. In June, he spoke from the steps of Patterson's City Hall at a rally against the occupations of Iraq and Palestine.
He is survived by his son, Tarek.