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Keep Cleric's Attorney's Charges, U.S. Urges

Lawyer allegedly helped a sheik direct terrorism from prison. The government rejects argument indictment violates free speech.

March 25, 2003|From Reuters

NEW YORK — The government urged a federal judge not to throw out charges against a defense attorney they say helped a militant cleric direct terrorism from prison, according to court papers released Monday.

The Manhattan U.S. attorney's office said U.S. free speech rights did not protect Lynne Stewart, who represented Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman at the 1995 trial in which he was convicted of plotting a "war of urban terrorism" that included the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Stewart was indicted last year for allegedly helping Rahman communicate with followers in the Egyptian-based Islamic Group from prison.

The case has drawn widespread criticism from defense lawyers who fear it could have a chilling effect on attorneys who represent unpopular clients.

Rahman is serving a life term.

Other defendants in Stewart's case are Ahmed Abdel Sattar, a top aide to Rahman, and Mohammed Yousry, an Arabic interpreter.

Stewart and her co-defendants are charged with having unlawful communications with Rahman during prison visits and telephone calls.

Stewart has denied wrongdoing.

In January, her lawyers filed papers seeking the dismissal of the indictment as an attack on free speech and right to counsel.

They alleged that the government wanted to punish Stewart for handling controversial clients.

However, prosecutors alleged in a 226-page document dated Friday that Stewart "was not engaged in acts of legal representation" and that the alleged criminal activity is not protected by the 1st Amendment.

Stewart's lawyer, Michael Tigar, could not be reached for comment.

Under a special order obtained by the Justice Department, Rahman was supposed to have limited contact with the outside world, and conversations with his lawyer and staff were supposed to be limited to legal matters.

The defendants allegedly violated the order by exchanging information during visits that allowed Rahman to communicate with the Islamic Group.

Prosecutors said this communication "has no conceivable connection to representation of Rahman."

Instead they alleged that Stewart "wholly abandoned her role as a lawyer" and became an "integral cog" in the group's "communications machine."

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