Lynne Jackson of Albany is walking to tell a story and fight for justice.
On Thursday, she stopped in Oneonta during her “Journey for Justice,” a walk and larger effort to collect petition signatures supporting an appeal in the case of Yassin Aref, a Muslim convicted in a federal terrorism case who is serving a 15-year sentence in a prison in Indiana.
Aref, a leader at an Albany mosque, was unjustly convicted after being set up in a FBI sting, said Jackson, co-founder of Project SALAM, which stands for “Support and Legal Advocacy for Muslims.” On Friday, Jackson started a 133-mile walk between Albany and Binghamton, where she plans to submit the petitions to the federal judge who presided in the case.
Aref’s story was the focus of Jackson’s presentation at the Quakers-Butternuts Friends Meeting at the First United Presbyterian Church in Oneonta on Thursday. Some listeners shared other stories of injustice and criticism of the government, including the Patriot Act, and of acts of entrapment.
Aref was a United Nations refugee from Iraq who relocated to Albany in 1999, Jackson said. He was convicted of terrorist activities in 2006 and appeals have been unsuccessful. Mohammed Hossain also was convicted in the case.
In 2011, Aref filed a Freedom of Information Act request, which resulted in “dramatic new evidence showing that the FBI originally thought he was an Al-Qaeda agent, Mohamed Yasin,” according to Project SALAM. The evidence wasn’t shown to Aref, his defense team or the jury, Jackson said, and Mohamed Yasin was killed in the Middle East in 2010.
Aref’s attorneys are appealing on the basis of this information, seeking that the verdict be overturned or a new trial granted. Jackson said the walk is to show that “we in Albany have never forgotten Yassin” or the injustice of his case. Aref is scheduled to be released in 2018, she said.
Jackson’s journey along state Route 7 will continue until she reaches Binghamton in the days ahead. On Tuesday, she plans to deliver petitions to the clerk of Judge Thomas J. McAvoy of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. She said a conservative estimate was 1,200 people had signed the petition as of Thursday afternoon.
Dominick Calsolaro, a member of the Albany Common Council, spoke Thursday in support of Jackson’s efforts.
Calsolaro reviewed a resolution the council passed in 2010 urging the U.S. Department of Justice to review convictions of Muslims “pre-emptively prosecuted” as steps to ensure their fair treatment under the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Calsolaro said he may ask the Oneonta Common Council to consider a measure.
The petition urges McAvoy to give “serious consideration” to an appeal underway based on Aref’s assertion of innocence.
Aref’s case is among other instances of prejudice and targeting of Muslims in the United States as part of the country’s “War on Terror,” according to Jackson. The cases are based on “pre-emptive prosecution,” citing the possibility that a crime might be committed, she said, and secret information and misleading conduct have been employed.
“Sting operations should be illegal,” Jackson said, and pre-emptive prosecution based on someone’s ideology is “totally un-American.”
Jackson spoke at the First Presbyterian Church in Cooperstown on Tuesday night, and since leaving Albany on Friday, she also met with the Peacemakers of Schoharie County.
The hot weather this week was unexpected, Jackson said, and has slowed her progress. To make up some time, she said, the walk may turn into a paddle along the Susquehanna River. Jackson said the Journey for Justice was the first such walk she has attempted.
“It’s kind of a challenge to do this,” she said.
Supporters have joined her along sections of the walk, she said, and residents have welcomed her into their homes for meals and overnight stays.
“People have been extremely kind to me,” she said.