Just as Sherburne County jailers began to accommodate Amina Farah Ali’s religious needs, federal officials transferred her to the Ramsey County Jail in St. Paul.
But the woman awaiting sentencing for supporting a group trying to oust Somalia’s fledgling government told family members she was mistreated during the move, which took place Monday afternoon.
“She was crying, and she said they mistreated her and they made her naked and they picked her up, and maybe she’s got a head injury, and she’s got chest pain,” said her brother, Hussein Ali. “The government might want to give her 1,000 years, but they should not kill her body and her mind. They have to treat her fairly.”
He said he spoke with her in a brief phone call she made Monday from the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center, where records show she was booked in at 4:21 p.m. He said she didn’t mention where the alleged mistreatment took place, and a spokesman for the Ramsey County sheriff’s office said he’d heard no complaints of mistreatment.
“If she has, I’m certain we’re making provisions to take care of it,” said the spokesman, Randy Gustafson.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Thomas Volk said the transfer was “a law enforcement decision” and declined to elaborate. He said the Marshals Service would have nothing else to say about it.
Dan Scott, Ali’s attorney, said he was given no explanation for the transfer. He hadn’t spoken with her about it yet because he’d been unable to schedule an interpreter. Ali
speaks some English but communicates better in her native tongue, Somali.
Ali, 34, and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, 64, both of Rochester, were convicted in federal court last month of raising and sending money to al-Shabaab, which the U.S. government considers a terrorist organization. The women claimed they were raising money for orphans and the needy in their native Somalia, which has been devastated by more than two decades of civil war, fighting among warlords and failed attempts to set up governments.
After the jury convicted the women, Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis sent Hassan to a halfway house to await sentencing but ordered Ali jailed.
In doing so, Davis gave the Muslim woman assurances her religious customs would be accommodated, a concern she had expressed after she spent two days in jail during her trial on a contempt-of-court charge. She claimed jailers mistreated her.
Davis’ assurances did not spell out how far the accommodations would go. When Ali arrived at the Sherburne County Jail in Elk River, jailers ordered her to remove her hijab, the head covering many Muslim women believe they are required to wear in the presence of men who aren’t their relatives.
As a result, Ali refused to leave her cell. Sherburne County Sheriff Joel Brott said she eventually came out but took meals in her cell.
Brott said prisoners are allowed to wear only jail-issue clothing, and hijabs and other religious-based clothing weren’t included. But he later agreed to meet with officials from the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations to see if a policy could be worked out that allowed religious head wear and still provided for staff and inmate safety and security.
Various other corrections systems, including the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, allow prisoners to wear hijabs or other religions’ head wear.
Brott did not return a call for comment Tuesday. But Gustafson said he was told that Sherburne County officials wound up providing Ali with a sheet that she fashioned into a head covering.
“Inmates have sheets on their beds” he said. “She was issued an extra one so she could fashion that as covering.”
Gustafson said Ali’s booking into the Ramsey County jail went without incident.
“It went well and she was cooperative,” he said. Gustafson said that no men were in the part of the jail where Ali was booked.
Ramsey County jailers would abide by the Minnesota Department of Corrections’ guidelines for religious head wear, he said. Those policies allow women religious head wear in their cells or at a religious service, but nowhere else.
The U.S. Bureau of Prisons allows each female inmate up to three religious scarves or head wraps; the policy applies to Muslim, Jewish, Orthodox Christian, Rastafarian, Native American and other women.
Hussein Ali said his sister wasn’t given a reason for the transfer. He expressed concern that officials were singling her out because of her religion.
“She is really surprised how they’re treating her. This woman believes what she believes. Nobody can change her belief system,” he said. “But she needs to see a doctor to find out what kind of bruise she has. She’s complaining of her head and chest, so we don’t know yet.”
Published: November 2, 2011