ANTITERRORISM LAW FORBIDDING
POLITICAL AND HUMANITARIAN AID TO
FOREIGN GROUPS CHALLENGED AS UNCONSTITUTIONAL
Center for Constitutional Rights Says
First Amendment Is Violated by Law's Restrictions on
Legitimate Activities of Supporters of International Human Rights
Washington Post's Editorial
St.Petersburgh Times Editorial
|Los Angeles (March 19, 1998) - Today, the Center
for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Central
District of California charging that the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of
1996 is unconstitutional insofar as it criminalizes the provision of material support or
resources to the lawful and non-violent activities of any foreign organization designated
as "terrorist" by the Secretary of State.
The suit, captioned Humanitarian Law Project, et al., v. Reno, et al., was filed by eight plaintiffs who wish to provide support to the political and humanitarian activities of two organizations that were designated by the Secretary of State on October 8, 1997 -- the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the leading political organization that is advocating for the human rights and self-determination for the Kurds in Turkey -- and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the leading political organization advocating for the human rights and self-determination of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that fund-raising for the lawful activities of a foreign terrorist organization is constitutionally protected by the First Amendment, absent a specific intent to further the illegal ends of the group. American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee v. Reno, 119 F.3d 1367, 1376 (9th Cir. 1997).
Plaintiff Humanitarian Law Project (HLP) is a Los Angeles-based not-for-profit organization that advocates for the peaceful resolution of armed conflicts and for world-wide compliance with humanitarian law and human rights law before the United Nations, where it has consultative status as an NGO, and in other arenas. The HLP and its President, Ralph Fertig, who is serving as a plaintiff in his individual capacity, have engaged in extensive political advocacy on behalf of the PKK and the Kurds since 1992. They have conducted fact-finding investigations of human rights violations by the Turkish government against the Kurds and have published reports on their findings that are supportive of the PKK. In addition, they have provided training to the PKK on how to advocate for their rights under international law.
The remaining six plaintiffs wish to provide various forms of political and humanitarian assistance to the LTTE, including the donation of food, clothing and other necessaries to orphanages and refugee relief centers run by the LTTE, the donation of books and educational materials to schools run by the LTTE, cash contributions to the LTTE to finance the lawsuit it filed in the D.C. Circuit Court on November 6, 1997 challenging the Secretary of State's decision to designate it as a foreign terrorist organization, and the distribution of LTTE literature in the United States. These six plaintiffs include five Tamil-American organizations, the Ilankai Thamil Sangam, the Tamils of Northern California, the Tamil Welfare and Human Rights Committee, the Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America, the World Tamil Coordinating Committee, and Dr. Jeyalingam, a Tamil-born surgeon who is a naturalized United States citizen.
The plaintiffs seek a preliminary injunction barring the government from criminally prosecuting individuals and organizations under the Act for providing material support to the lawful and non-violent activities of a designated foreign terrorist organization and a court ruling declaring the law unconstitutional.
As Nancy Chang, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, explained, "The Antiterrorism Law is having the effect of intimidating the plaintiffs from the exercise of their First Amendment rights. A conviction under the law can result in an extremely harsh punishment of up to 10 years of imprisonment and a substantial fine. So, despite the fact that the plaintiffs firmly believe that the law is unconstitutional, they wish to avoid criminal prosecution and conviction. For this reason, they seek a court ruling that the law is unconstitutional."
David Cole, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, explained the legal theory behind the case: "The Antiterrorism Law violates a cardinal principle of the First Amendment -- it imposes guilt by association, rather on the basis of one's acts. The Antiterrorism Law makes it a crime to send blankets to a refugee relief center, not because doing so is wrong, but because the government has designated the group that runs the center as terrorist. This is guilt by association, which is prohibited by the First Amendment."