Onsy Zachary Press Release

From the National Center for Reason and Justice (NCRJ, www.ncrj.org), for immediate release, Sept. 20, 2007. For more information visit www.saveonsy.com and www.ncrj.org or call NCRJ executive director Bob Chatelle at 617-266-5827, bobchatelle@gmail.com, or NCRJ board member Mark Pendergrast at 802-872-0847, markp@nasw.org. You may also contact Onsy Zachary’s niece, Susan Gillis, at 508-505-5795, Mbsusan2006@aol.com.

Urgent: Is Onsy Zachary being tortured in a U. S. detention facility?

Onsy Zachary, a wheelchair-bound 63-year-old native Egyptian, is being held in Plymouth County Correctional Center in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He is being detained by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE). His niece, Susan Gillis, has been able to speak to him twice -- on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2007, and Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007. The first day he told her that he was being held in an interrogation room and denied access to water (because he is wheelchair bound, he could not walk over to the water supply, and guards refused to bring him any). He also said that he was being deliberately deprived of sleep, severely verbally abused by prison workers (called a "child molester," etc.) and pressured to sign documents. He does not speak English well and said that he would not sign anything without his lawyer present. They told him that he would therefore not be granted a bond hearing.

On Wednesday, he was transferred to a small isolation unit with a sink, toilet, and cot. They will not give him a glass, so he sips water using his hands. Zachary suffers from severe arthritis, and the metal cot and thin mattress are so uncomfortable that he is sleeping in his wheelchair. “I have never heard my uncle sound so broken. I am truly worried for his life,” Susan Gillis says. Zachary said that the authorities have taken away his Bible, toothbrush, and blood pressure medication. Gillis has been told that she is not allowed to visit him for ten days.

The official ICE detention standards specify that detainees are not to be treated as prisoners. Family members are to be allowed to visit without any restriction. Detainees are supposed to be allowed to have religious material and necessary medication. Obviously, the ICE guidelines are not being followed in the case of Onsy Zachary.

Onsy Zachary is being treated as a criminal rather than as a detainee. His rights are being violated. He is suffering gravely, both physically and mentally. ICE apparently has put him in solitary confinement because they cannot guarantee his safety if he is confined with a regular population, due to the nature of his conviction.

Because ICE cannot keep him detained and guarantee his safety without causing him great harm by confining him in an isolation unit, he should be released immediately. The ICE regulations state that if a person’s detention is causing the detainee harm, ICE has the authority to release him.

Onsy Zachary is not a flight risk and can remain available to ICE if released to his home, where his family can care for him, saving taxpayers a great deal of money. The NCRJ requests his immediate release.

Susan Gillis emailed the NCRJ on Sept. 20: My uncle Onsy is in a confinement cell that has a sink so he drinks water out of his hands, no cup. He told me that he is going crazy because for 23 hours, he has nothing to do but stare at the walls. There is no human contact, no reading or writing material, no TV or books or anything. He told me that every bone in his body hurt so much because he is sleeping on a metal cot and the mattress is paper thin. Onsy has arthritis throughout his neck, and spine. You can see his picture on the website, he is thin and frail. He sleeps sitting in his wheel chair because it hurts too much to sleep on the cot. He said he was freezing at night. He asked for a blanket and the guard’s standard answer to him on anything is “too bad.” He said that they took his blood pressure medication (Onsy has high blood pressure) as well as his change of clothing, his tooth brush and his Bible. He was not given a towel so he cannot shower and he said his clothing smells and he can't stand how his teeth feel because he has not brushed them in days now. All his items were sanctioned by and transferred by the other prison and according to the rules; he should have been able to keep them. When Onsy was first imprisoned five years ago, he was in regular population and he was brutally beaten by other inmates in the shower, while they called him an Egyptian terrorist and child molester (he said this was done with the guard’s blessings). He was hospitalized for weeks after that. We do not want that to happen again, but we also do not want him to go crazy in isolation.

Onsy Zachary’s immigration attorney is Saher Macarius of Framingham, MA, 508-879-4443, contact@smacariuslaw.com. His office cannot say when he will visit Onsy Zachary in the correctional center.

On Wednesday, September 19, the NCRJ called Brian Churchill, the ICE officer in charge of Zachary’s case, who said that he is in Boston two hours away and would look into it. We have not heard back from him. Because we are extremely alarmed and concerned, we are sending this press release to journalists, politicians, and concerned citizens who can demand his immediate release. To contact Brian Churchill, call 617-565-3100, ext. 4, and ask for him by name, or email brian.Churchill@dhs.gov.

Below is background on the Onsy Zachary case and the National Center for Reason and Justice. 

The federal government is trying to deport Onsy Zachary, a Boston-area man, to Egypt, even though he stands a good chance of being tortured and killed if he is forced to return to Egypt.

Zachary’s case is of great concern to the non-profit National Center for Reason and Justice (NCRJ, www.ncrj.org ). The organization, whose administration is based in Boston, advocates for people believed to have been falsely accused and convicted of harming children. The NCRJ receives many innocence claims. After careful review, it sponsors only which are deemed credible.

Onsy Zachary's is one such case, but it is complicated by other factors which are now threatening his life. Here is his story:

Mr. Zachary is an Egyptian and a devout member of the Christian Coptic Orthodox church. Coptic Christians are a religious minority in his native country. He deserted the Egyptian army years ago after being jailed because he would not convert to the state religion, Islam. His brother also left Egypt because of religious persecution, and received refugee status in the U.S. Mr. Zachary lived in Europe for some years, then came to the United States in the late 1990s to join the rest of the family. He had poor immigration legal counsel, however, and ended up here legally but without a work permit. He became dependent on his brother for support. Because of this difficult situation, tensions developed between the two brothers. According to other family members, the brother attempted to have Mr. Zachary deported by calling immigration authorities. When they declined to prosecute, the brother falsely accusing Mr. Zachary of child sexual abuse. (It is quite common for immigrants with personal disputes to turn each other in to immigration authorities, often using false accusations of crimes as a tool.)

Mr. Zachary's brother ultimately succeeded in convincing the government to charge Mr. Zachary. His trial took place not long after 9/11, and the prosecutor heavily emphasized the fact that the defendant was an Arab. The family strongly believes Mr. Zachary is innocent, but were unable to afford a competent attorney. He was convicted.

He is now 63 years old and crippled. He has just served five years in prison for a crime he very likely did not commit and has completed his term. Now, as a convicted felon, he has no automatic right to remain in the US and is scheduled for deportation back to Egypt -- even though Egypt has a notorious record for torturing prisoners. If he is returned to that country, Mr. Zachary will be arrested for having deserted the army and seeking asylum in the United States. He will be considered an enemy of the country and its Islamic religion. Based on Egyptian law, this carries an automatic death sentence following torture.

Mr. Zachary's family members who believe he is innocent could not find or afford adequate legal counsel for his trial five years ago. With assistance from the NRCJ now, they have hired an excellent appellate attorney to contest his criminal conviction, though they still need to raise adequate funds, and an immigration lawyer to stay his deportation. The NCRJ has examined the facts of the case and found Mr. Zachary's innocence claim to be compelling.

A few days ago he was taken from the state facility where he finished his criminal sentence, and transferred to the ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement) detention center in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where he is apparently being severely mistreated.

For more information visit www.saveonsy.com and www.ncrj.org
or call NCRJ executive director Bob Chatelle at 617-266-5827, bobchatelle@gmail.com, or NCRJ board member Mark Pendergrast at 802-872-0847, markp@nasw.org. You may also contact Onsy Zachary’s niece, Susan Gillis, at 508-505-5795, Mbsusan2006@aol.com.