US terrorism financing laws violate Muslim charities' rights: report

[JURIST] US anti-terrorism laws are hindering Muslim charities and violating the constitutional rights of practicing Muslims, according to a report [text, PDF] released Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website]. Entitled "Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity," the report alleges that current US laws and policies affect Muslims' right to practice their religion through charitable giving, violating constitutional freedoms and fundamental human rights. Zakat [IslamicPath backgrounder], one of the five pillars of Islam, is a religious obligation that involves donating to a charity that serves as welfare for Muslim countries and individuals in need. The report argues that actions taken by the US government impede the right of US Muslims to practice their religion by participating in Zakat, violating their First Amendment [text] rights. Additionally, by freezing assets "pending investigation," the report maintains that the policies in question violate charities' due process rights under the Fifth Amendment [text]. According to the report, the rights violations began when former president George W. Bush took executive action [exec. order 13224] following the 9/11 attacks [JURIST news archive] to allow the US Treasury Department [official website] to freeze the assets of terrorist organizations. Shortly thereafter, the government froze the assets of the Holy Land Foundation [ADL backgrounder; LOC archived website], the Global Relief Foundation, and the Benevolence International Foundation [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], effectively closing the organizations. Calling the Treasury Department's power to designate groups as terrorist organizations "virtually unchecked," the report expresses concern that the department is not required to disclose the evidence on which it bases such decisions. The report addresses the due process issues raised by the laws and policies:


Terrorism financing laws cover (i) schemes under which the government may designate organizations as terrorist through an administrative action in which the government shuts organizations down, often without allegations of criminal wrongdoing (criminal charges are not always brought in such cases), and (ii) criminal prosecutions for material support for terrorism or to a terrorist organization. These regimes raise different issues...but have in common a lack of fundamental due process safeguards and impose guilt by association. As a result, American Muslim organizations and individuals are unfairly targeted in violation both of their First and Fifth Amendment rights and international law.

Earlier this month, US President Barack Obama addressed US-Muslim relations [transcript] at a speech in Cairo, raising the issue of terrorism finance laws and their effect on the Muslim community. In their report, the ACLU urged the Obama administration to conform existing terrorism financing laws and policies with the concepts of due process and freedom of religion.

Last month, a federal judge sentenced [JURIST report] five officials of the Holy Land Foundation to prison sentences ranging from 15 to 65 years and reaffirmed a $12.4 million jury judgment against the group. The group and officials were convicted [JURIST report] of providing material support to Palestinian group Hamas [BBC backgrounder]. Once the largest Muslim charity in the US, the Holy Land Foundation and its officials were originally charged [original indictment, PDF; JURIST report] in 2004 on 42 counts of conspiracy, dealing in the property of a specially designated terrorist and various other charges. The group defended themselves on the grounds that the charity's funds were used solely to help Palestinians in need [JURIST report], but the prosecution maintained that the group was in place only to funnel money used to support Hamas through Palestinian schools and charities.

 

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