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IPA Voices That Must Be Heard

Film Student detained for 48 days

by Salwa Al-Timimi, Arab Voice, 5 January 2002. Arabic language.

A Lebanese film student, Salaam Al-Zatari, spent 48 days in solitary confinement in a Pennsylvania jail after a box cutter was found in his luggage. That was considered sufficient reason for his incarceration, where he suffered a torrent of abuse because he was accused of terrorism, he said.

In February, Mr. Al-Zatari finished his studies. He was returning to Beirut to follow his dream of producing serious cinematic works when a box cutter was found in his luggage. “Ordinarily I could mail the object to myself. However, I was arrested because I am an Arab and was considered a suspect,” Mr. Al-Zatari said.

“Upon my arrest I was subjected to psychological pressure and continuous provocative questioning, during which they looked for inconsistencies in my statements to make them seem not credible.” Mr. Al-Zatari said he was only allowed to leave his cell for an hour a day. He also charged that, in violation of his civil rights, the authorities did not allow him to use the phone. His family knew about his situation only from media reports. Even his lawyer, who was retained through friends, was subjected to insults and threats for defending a “terrorist.”

Mr. Al-Zatari said that in detention, he felt intimidated and harassed by other inmates. “The guards treated me very harshly as well,” he said. After two weeks the interrogators started to focus on whether he was a member of Hezbollah or any other terrorist organization, and whether he was a Sunni or Shiite. Mr. Al-Zatari’s incarceration continued after his innocence was established, he charged. He said he thinks it was used to pressure the Lebanese government.

Mr. Al-Zatari believes the American media has participated in creating an atmosphere of hatred towards Arabs and Muslims.

“I ceased to feel that there is any respect for my humanity and religion in this country,” Mr. Al-Zatari said of his experience. He added that he thought one positive aspect of the fallout of September 11 might be the average American’s increased interest in Islam.

This article appeared in Edition 5 of Voices That Must Be Heard.

Included by permission of Arab Voice.