For immediate release
Monday, September 27, 1999
PORTLAND ACTIVIST FILES SUIT FOR RELEASE OF
FILM AND VIDEOTAPES OF IRAQ SEIZED BY U.S. CUSTOMS
On September 21, a lawsuit was filed in Federal District Court in Detroit, Michigan demanding the return of videotapes and film of Iraq seized from Portland area activist Dan Handelman. Handelman traveled to Iraq in November, 1997 to deliver medicine to Iraqi children's hospitals and to witness the effects of the U.S./U.N. embargo, which was imposed in 1990. Upon his return to the United States, Detroit Customs officials seized the film and videotapes. Handelman has been deprived of his property for nearly two years.
At the end of August, Handelman received Customs' rejection of his second administrative petition in which he argued that the film and video are not "goods and services of Iraqi origin," as Customs claims, but informational materials protected by the First Amendment. Ann Arbor attorney Kurt Berggren filed the suit to seek return of the materials and to prevent Customs from proceeding with a forfeiture process, which would result in the destruction of the materials.
Recent reports from UNICEF and other world agencies have confirmed what Handelman and his colleagues documented on the tapes: that malnutrition and disease are rampant in Iraq, and that the aid workers and ordinary citizens know these conditions are the result of sanctions. Estimates are that at the least, a quarter of a million children, possibly three times that, have died as a direct result of the embargo. Handelman underscores the urgency of the situation in light of the United Nations General Assembly taking up the issue of Iraq sanctions this coming week.
"It would be a tragedy to think that the U.S. would embargo information being exhanged among the people of the world," said Handelman. "If they hope to promote democracy, it seems counter- productive to violate our own Constitution to try to prevent the people of this country from seeing what is really going on in Iraq."
In the letter from Customs denying Handelman's second petition, a memorandum from Chicago's Customs office states "there is no provision to exempt informational material such as that seized." This bolsters the claim that the sanctions are a violation of the First Amendment, and marks the first time the Government has conceded that the materials are informational and not "merchandise." The full letter from Customs, as well as a brief description of the content of the seized tapes, is attached. (A 98 second clip of footage retrieved from a copy of Handelman's seized tapes is available for viewing, broadcast or cablecast.)
For the complete content of the lawsuit filed in Federal Court, or for more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Ann or Bruce Huntwork at 503-281- 4970 beginning at 9 AM Pacific Time (12 Noon Eastern) on Monday, September 27, or leave a message on the voicemail of Friends of Voices in the Wilderness/Portland at 503-299-4798. You can also contact Kurt Berggren in Ann Arbor at (734) 996-0722. Background information and the text of the lawsuit are also available on the Friends of Voices website at www.rdrop.com/~vitwpdx.
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