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“Witness,” a documentary with filmmaker Masood Haque

June 17, 2022 @ 7:00 pm 10:00 pm EDT

Please join us for a screening of Witness, a documentary film about the Aref-Hossain case, with filmmaker Masood Haque. The screening is followed by a panel with Lynne Jackson, Kathy Manley and Larry Rulison. This event is part of iEAR Presents! and co-sponsored by Project SALAM (Support and Legal Advocacy for Muslims), Coalition for Civil Freedoms, Capital District Coalition Against Islamophobia, and Muslim Solidarity Committee.

***Please note that for everyone’s safety, we are following Covid protocols that include requirements that all attendees show proof of vaccination or a recent test for entry, and wear a mask. We will notify ticket holders if the protocols change.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks a local pizza shop owner and the Imam of an Albany mosque found themselves at the center of an elaborate FBI sting operation. A convicted felon was sent undercover to lure the young men into a criminal plot as part of a plea bargain. They spent most of the next twenty years in prison while their accuser went on to a prominent role in the 2018 Schoharie limousine crash. Witness explores the difficult balance between civil liberties and security with a searing look at the impact of the War on Terror on everyday life.

Join us before the film screening for the Be The Media! workshop: “The Struggle to Tell Your Story,” with Masood Haque

A poster featuring a hand holding a puppet-string holder, but instead of a puppet it is the word Witness. The hand is also the colors and stripes of the American Flag, and the text below it reads They don't have to believe all that is true, only what is necessary.

Witness touches on a host of contemporary issues, ranging from the War on Terror to the balance between civil liberties and security. Most importantly, it examines the idea of due process. In pursuit of security, the American legal system is turned upside down. In cases involving terrorism, there is an almost automatic presumption of guilt based on fear, which is then exploited by prosecutors, who portray ordinary people as dangerous threats to safety and security. Thus, the jury system becomes an extension of law enforcement. Juries feel obligated to convict heavily bearded Muslim men with exotic, unpronounceable names because of their implicit faith in law enforcement and the FBI, and because of their fear that by acquitting, they might let a real terrorist go free.

Witness also grapples with the idea of preemptive prosecutions, used against hundreds of Muslims. Orwellian in its conceit, preemptive prosecutions target those deemed dangerous by engaging them in a variety of fictional plots and stress-testing their ideology in the quest to “prevent the next one.” Thus American law enforcement uses fear once again, this time to undermine long-standing, cherished legal principles. Ultimately Witness asks the question: How far are we willing to go to create the illusion of safety for ourselves?

Witness also examines the role of media in becoming an arm of the government’s disinformation campaign. Even though the print media acquitted itself well in the coverage of this case, asking critical questions that often earned the wrath of the prosecution, local television news reporters bought the government’s contrived story hook, line, and sinker. These reporters parroted the government’s often-dubious claims as fact, thus becoming a tool for manipulating public sentiment. The day the story broke, several reporters were told by FBI agents that the initial sheet of charges would outline the men’s involvement with terrorist organizations, yet in the actual court documents there was no mention of such connections––leaving some reporters to wonder on air what had happened to these nefarious ties.  Check out more about the story here.

headshot of Masood Haque in the woods

Masood Haque: Producer/ Director

Masood Haque graduated from NYU and subsequently received his MFA in documentary film production from CUNY. He has produced and directed several award-winning short form documentaries, including Stranger in Paradise which won the top prize at City Vision Film Festival and the jury prize at Jackson Heights Film Festival. Witness is his first feature documentary. 

Listen to the interview:

After the film screening Masood Haque will be joined in a Q & A with:

headshot of Lynne Jackson in front of a cream wall

Lynne Jackson is a community activist, and will be the moderator for the panel. Lynne Jackson is a breast cancer survivor who has lived in Albany, New York for more than 40 years. She makes her living as a computer consultant, worked with Save the Pine Bush for more than 35 years, volunteers to work on the issue of preemptive prosecution of Muslims and gives presentations on these issues. She lives in the South End of Albany with her husband, Daniel W. Van Riper and two cats.

Hear the story: Jackson of the Muslim Solidarity Committee on “Witness” Documentary Film

headshot of Kathy Manley in the outdoors

Kathy Manley is a criminal defense attorney, speaking as Yassin Aref’s attorney. She is the Legal Director of the Coalition for Civil Freedoms and the President of the Capital Region Council of the New York Civil Liberties Union. She is also a founding member of Project SALAM. Her main emphasis is criminal defense and constitutional rights. She concentrates on appeals, and has written many winning briefs before a variety of courts., and has received several awards for her work. 

Hear the story: Manley Discusses “Witness” Film on Aref-Hossain Muslim FBI Sting

headshot of Larry Rulison in a news office

Larry Rulison has been a reporter for the Albany Times Union since 2005. Larry’s reporting for the Times Union has won several awards for business and investigative journalism from the New York State Associated Press Association and the New York News Publishers Association. As a journalist, he has written about the informant, Shahed Hussain, the 2018 Schoharie limousine crash and the connections between the 2 cases.

Hear the story: Larry Rulison On Aref-Hossain Case

Additional interviews:

Sponsored by iEAR Presents! and the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at Rensselaer, made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of The Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.

We are committed to lowering the barriers to access for events at The Sanctuary for Independent Media. For people who are hard of hearing or deaf, blind or low-vision, or whose physical limitations can interfere with a satisfying experience, let us know two weeks in advance so we can make appropriate arrangements.

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