(Ahlul Bayt News Agency) - A national Muslim civil rights organization plans to file a lawsuit against the New York Police Department today in Newark in response to its surveillance of Muslim-Americans in mosques, businesses and student groups.
Muslim Advocates, suing on behalf of at least eight New Jersey plaintiffs, alleges that the NYPD violated constitutional rights of Muslims when it targeted them for surveillance allegedly based on their religion and without evidence of wrongdoing. The group plans to file the complaint at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Newark, followed by a press conference in New York at 10 a.m.
An advance copy of the lawsuit was not available Tuesday. Farhana Khera, executive director of San Francisco-based Muslim Advocates, said the suit will claim that the NYPD violated the equal protection clause that guarantees all Americans equal treatment under the law regardless of race or religion. The plaintiffs claim that the surveillance violated the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment, she said.
The NYPD surveillance program targeted Muslims at businesses, universities and mosques, including one in Paterson and several in Newark, as well as student groups at 16 Northeast colleges, including Rutgers University.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Police Department have defended the spying program — first detailed in a series of articles by The Associated Press — as lawful and necessary, while civic groups and some lawmakers have called for investigations.
Inaction on those complaints prompted the civil rights group to turn to the courts, Khera said. Muslim leaders of at least two other organizations said they were considering filing lawsuits against the NYPD, but Muslim Advocates is the first to formally take that step in either New Jersey or New York The lead plaintiff in the suit is Farhaj Hassan, 35, of Helmetta, a veteran of the Iraq war and an active member of the U.S. Army Reserve. Hassan, an observant Muslim of Pakistani descent, has shied away from attending mosque services in Newark since he learned about the surveillance.
Hassan, a military intelligence specialist, is concerned that being associated with a mosque under surveillance will blemish his record and jeopardize his job and security clearance, Khera said.
She said plaintiffs also include two students at the Rutgers Muslim Student Association, as well as the Masjid Imam K. Ali Muslim mosque in Newark, which was among 16 city mosques photographed and mapped by the NYPD for a secret guide to Newark’s Muslims in 2007.
Muslim Advocates is calling for the court to find the program unconstitutional and to end it, and to destroy related records in the NYPD’s possession.
New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced last month that a three-month fact-finding review found the NYPD broke no state laws. New York’s attorney general has declined to investigate, while a preliminary review by the U.S. Department of Justice continues without any commitment to investigate.
Khera said the lawsuit is being filed in New Jersey because it was requested by individuals and groups here. She added that the surveillance feels more offensive in the Garden State because "it was outsiders coming into their state" to do surveillance.