Palestinian-born activist Rasmea Odeh, 67, convicted last November of “unlawful procurement of naturalization,” was sentenced to 18 months today by a federal judge in Detroit, over the objections of a prosecution team that called for 5-7 years in federal prison. She was released on bond pending appeal. Odeh is a respected leader in Chicago’s Arab community, and her case has drawn supporters from around the Midwest to the Detroit courthouse at each stage of the trial. Supporters argue that Odeh has been an upstanding member of the community and that the charges against her are politically motivated. She is charged with lying on immigration documents filed ten years ago. Specifically, she claimed she had not been convicted of any crimes, despite confessing to bomb charges in Israel in 1969. She says that she understood the question to refer to convictions during her time in the United States. She also says that her confession was coerced. The prosecution had asked for a longer sentence with terror enhancements, based on allegations that she perjured herself and obstructed justice during the trial. Prosecutors seem to be seeking to make an example of Odeh, including this speculation in their sentencing memorandum:
“A light sentence in this case would be a signal to anyone who has fought overseas for ISIS or a similar organization that there is not much risk in coming to the United States, hiding one’s past and seeking citizenship,”
Odeh’s supporters insist that she did not hide her past and spoke frequently in public about her time in an Israeli prison, including her public testimony before the U.N. in 1979, when she described in great detail the torture to which she was subjected while imprisoned. Odeh’s lead attorneys, Michael Deutsch and Jim Fennerty, will also argue for no jail time, by asking the judge to take her age, poor health, post-traumatic stress disorder, and “exemplary history in the United States” into consideration. In a sentencing memorandum filed with the court last week, they asserted that “there is no reasonable justification” for sending her to federal prison. Over 70 letters of leniency were attached to the memo, “from religious leaders, university professors, human rights attorneys, community activists and people who have worked with her, attesting to her extraordinary and original work with Arab immigrant women.” Hundreds of supporters were at the courthouse again today. “We believe strongly that Rasmea should get no prison time at all,” says Jess Sundin of the national Rasmea Defense Committee, who helped organize 25 people to attend the hearing from Minneapolis. “The conviction was unjust and we are confident that she will be exonerated on appeal. When the prosecution uses the word ‘terrorism,’ it is nothing more than fear-mongering. We believe that won’t work, and justice will prevail.” Odeh plans to appeal her conviction, and will ask to be released on bail while that appeal is pending.