Civil rights groups contest FBI on Lodi arrests

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights have filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to get records related to the arrest of five Lodi, Calif., men on terrorism charges.

The groups are seeking FBI records about the procedures used during the questioning and detention of dozens of Muslims in Lodi following the arrest of the five, who are being held without bail in the Sacramento County Jail.

The civil rights groups say the records being sought relate to “the loss of substantial due process rights,” such as individuals’ rights to access to attorneys, translators, medical attention and freedom from inappropriate government surveillance.

Media reports have carried allegations that 23-year-old Hamid Hayat attended a terrorist training camp in Pakistan and that his father, Umer Hayat, a 47-year-old ice cream truck driver, was the mastermind of a terrorist cell.

However, the government has charged the Hayats only with lying to federal investigators about Hamid Hayat’s itinerary during a recent visit to Pakistan. Three other Lodi-area Pakistanis were detained on suspected immigration violations. None of the five have been charged with carrying out or planning to carry out any violent act.

“The Muslim community in Lodi has been living in fear,” said Basim Elkarra of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Sacramento Valley (CAIR-SV) at a press conference on June 16. “Many have stopped attending the mosque for daily prayer because of helicopter surveillance of the mosque, and agents around it,” he added.

Several speakers referred to the FBI invading the home of the arrested men with guns drawn, although they knew that only women and children were present. When an 11-year-old girl passed out, the agents refused to allow medical personnel to have access to her.

“The FBI has told witnesses that they don’t have any right to an attorney,” said Mark Schlosberg of the Northern California ACLU. ACLU members in Lodi were also followed and photographed by the FBI, he said.

A CAIR Town Hall “Know Your Rights” meeting on June 11 in nearby Stockton was also spied on by FBI agents in cars circling the building and taking pictures, said Shirin Sinar, an attorney with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights.

Marwa Elzankaly, president of the Bay Area Association of Muslim Lawyers, said she had spent the last week in Lodi. “People were interrogated for hours at a time without access to their lawyers. At the same time, the FBI told the lawyers that their clients were not there,” she told the press.

One Muslim was threatened with arrest for jaywalking if he did not consent to be questioned without an attorney. Many in the Muslim community don’t have financial resources and don’t speak English, she said.