FRIENDS OF VOICES IN THE WILDERNESS/PORTLAND
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 6, 2000
Contact: Dan Handelman, Ann or Bruce Huntwork
Voices in the Wilderness/Portland (503) 299-4798
Rick McDowell, Voices in the Wilderness (978) 544-9021
Michael J. Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan (313) 961-7728
Kurt Berggren, Attorney-at-Law (Ann Arbor) (734) 996-0722
Nancy Chang, Center for Constitutional Rights (212) 614-6420
U.S. PAYS SETTLEMENT, RETURNS ITEMS SEIZED FROM ACTIVIST
WHO VIOLATED IRAQ EMBARGO IN 1997
Handelman's attorneys, Kurt Berggren and Mike Steinberg of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and Nancy Chang of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, argued that these items are protected under the First Amendment of our Constitution. Customs, however, was arguing that the materials were "goods or services of Iraqi origin"--even though the actual film and videotape were bought in the United States. In late March, Customs returned all the materials, even items which Handelman did not dispute were "of Iraqi origin."
"It was not my intention to sue the government; I only wanted my materials back so I could continue educating the public about the devastating effect of sanctions on the people of Iraq," said Handelman. "The fact that they returned my items only after being faced with a legal challenge is a sign they know their policy is flawed. This agreement is effectively a chip in the 'intellectual embargo' that has been placed on Iraq."
Handelman, whose organizing work includes volunteer videography for cable access productions, released a seven minute video including statements from a variety of aid workers who were in Iraq, an Iraqi woman who lost her family in the "Gulf War"; and Iraqi Doctor; and images of the deteriorating conditions in the hospitals, which were formerly among the finest in the Arab world.
Although the outcome is not a formal court ruling that information is exempt from the embargo, this settlement will deter other such attempts by the government to confiscate First Amendment materials from those traveling to Iraq. Meanwhile, the group Voices in the Wilderness, including Handelman, still faces the possibility of a total of $163,000 in fines as outlined in a December, 1998, pre-penalty notice from the Treasury Department. The fines are for delivering medicine to Iraq without government approval, spending money in Iraq, and for Handelman, for exporting blank videotapes and film to Iraq and then importing the same items to the U.S.
A number of items were returned along with the five video tapes and three rolls of film: One is a piece of cardboard containing Iraqi stamps purchased at a flea market in Jordan; another is the label from an Iraqi water bottle, which has no intrinsic value on its own, except that it was mentioned specifically in the pre-penalty notice and in a subsequent article in the New York Times.
Voices in the Wilderness has sent over 25 delegations to Iraq. Beginning July 12, members of the group will be living in southern Iraq for two months in violation of U.S. law. The U.S. continues to bomb in Iraq's "no-fly zones" on an average of once every three to five days. UNICEF and other agencies estimate 4500 Iraqis die each month as a result of the embargo. For more information or to arrange interviews after the news conference, please call Voices in the Wilderness/Portland at 503-299-4798, any of the attorneys in this case, or Rick McDowell of Voices in the Wilderness at the numbers above.
Click here for the ACLU of Michigan's news release.
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