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Jailed Algerian got asylum, then lost it

Anwar Haddam, jailed on secret evidence, is instead transferred to another INS facility.

An Algerian politician jailed three years on secret evidence by the U.S. government received asylum, then lost it, in the latest twist in his convoluted bid to remain here.

Instead of being released, Anwar Haddam was transferred Friday to another Immigration and Naturalization Service facility in Virginia almost two hours farther from his family and attorney.

The grant of asylum was a mistake, the INS said.

The notice came in a letter received May 11 by Haddam's wife, Nassima Haddam. She received political asylum in November and could thus apply for her husband. But his case is already pending before the Board of Immigration Appeals. He is obviously not eligible for relief through his wife, said INS spokesman Russell Bergeron.

A day after the letter arrived, INS transported Haddam to another jail and rescinded the asylum.

When asked about the timing of the jail transfer, Bergeron said Haddam was moved to the Pamunkey Regional Jail in Hanover, Va., at the request of local jail officials. Haddam's attorney, Malea Kiblan, thinks it was done to curtail her access had she chosen to act upon the asylum letter and seek Haddam's immediate release.

Haddam, frustrated by the delays, began a hunger strike May 1.

"He's reached his limit," said Kiblan. "He's very depressed."

The 45-year-old nuclear physicist and University of Algiers professor is one of about two dozen immigrants in the United States involved in secret evidence cases. They include a former University of South Florida teacher, Mazen Al-Najjar, who on Friday marks three years in INS detention.

Critics say the U.S. government is targeting Arabs and Muslims in violation of their constitutional rights to due process and free speech. Those held are accused of having ties to terrorists.

Haddam is accused as a persecutor. The U.S. government says he incites others to violate human rights in Algeria as an opponent of the Algerian government.

He is jailed, counter his family and supporters, because the government wants to silence him.

"My husband is a political prisoner," said Mrs. Haddam, a physician. "It is about freedom of speech."

Haddam is a member of the Islamic Salvation Front, or FIS, and was elected to the Algerian parliament in December 1991. In 1992, the military government voided the elections. Haddam and his family came to the United States and asked for political asylum. Haddam continued to work on Algerian political issues. INS denied his asylum request in October 1996. He was arrested Dec. 6, 1996.

Haddam says he opposes violence in Algeria.

The FIS has been linked by opponents to the Armed Islamic Group, or GIA. The GIA is described as one of the most extreme factions in Algeria's civil war and is on the State Department's list of designated terrorist organizations.

A few days after his arrest, Haddam and the FIS were sued for human rights violations in Algeria by a group of more than 1,500 plaintiffs represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York.

The FIS counters that other factions are guilty of terrorism but that the U.S. government has sided with the ruling military.

Haddam's fate is currently before the Board of Immigration Appeals, where it was sent 10 months ago. Immigration judges have twice denied him asylum, but a previous BIA ruling said there was insufficient evidence to bar him. The BIA must again decide whether to uphold the denial of asylum or grant Haddam's appeal.

Haddam's attorney said she will ask for a review by the attorney general.

"I honestly cannot get a straight answer from anybody" on why a resolution has taken years, said Kiblan, of McLean, Va. "We are asking for a meeting on this case with Janet Reno." She said the classified information against Haddam consists of "newspaper articles, phone numbers and anonymous affidavits from people whose identities were not revealed even to the judges."

The government also appears unwilling to release Haddam to seek asylum elsewhere, said his wife. Her husband has been moved to different jails a half-dozen times, she said. The couple has four children. She asked him not to go on a hunger strike. She told him she needs him alive.

"I am dead already in here," she said he told her.