Community members in New York City gathered outside One Police Plaza on Tuesday, 12 April in support of Ahmed Ferhani, whose suicide attempt in Attica prison in upstate New York sparked outrage and renewed determination to challenge his conviction.
Ferhani, a young Algerian American man with a lengthy history of mental illness, including involuntary commitment in a psychiatric hospital, was targeted by an undercover NYPD officer, known under the pseudonym “Ilter Ayturk,” in a “terrorism case” built on entrapment. “Ayturk” had previously infiltrated Palestinian community and solidarity activist group Al-Awda New York, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, attending internal meetings, befriending members, and even traveling to the US Social Forum with Al-Awda, joining a closed BDS planning meeting.
After apparently failing to build any form of case against Al-Awda members, “Ayturk” extended his efforts to entrapping vulnerable individuals like Ferhani. “The case against him was flimsy enough that the FBI removed itself from the investigation in its early stages. The NYPD continued to pursue Ferhani, despite its knowledge of his history of mental illness and self-harm,” reported journalist John Knefel in The Nation.
Ferhani’s lawyer Lamis Deek said, “The NYPD themselves targeted him for this very lengthy and embarrassing intelligence and surveillance operation. They themselves had been picking him up from his home since he was 16 years old and taking him to Bellevue and Elmhurst – these are mental health hospitals – to be institutionalized. So, they knew that he had mental health issues even before they infiltrated his life.”
Following his imprisonment in 2012, Ferhani repeatedly reported abuse at the hands of prison guards, including physical and sexual abuse and harassment, denial of food and water, and access to prison services. In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Ferhani wrote, “I want everyone to know that the next time I am violated by correction officers or their supervisors I will take my own life. If taking my own life is the only way to expose the evils that are practiced daily by corrections officers then I will be glad to do it.”
Following Ferhani’s suicide attempt, he remains in a coma; his lawyer and Al-Awda co-chair Lamis Deek stated that his chances of survival are 50%.
Video: Lamis Deek on the case of Ahmed Ferhani:
The protest demanded accountability from the Department of Corrections and Department of Justice for the abuse Ferhani suffered in prison, and from the NYPD for its policies of surveillance and targeting of communities that continue to harm not only Ferhani, but entire communities.
Participants in the rally included Ferhani’s lawyers and legal team, families impacted by surveillance and NYPD repression, migrant rights organizations, Palestinian and Palestine solidarity activists including members of Al-Awda, anti-police brutality and other social justice movements.
Photos: DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving) and Suzanne Adely