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Citing Hobby Lobby Ruling, Guantánamo Detainees File Motion Seeking Group Prayers

GITMO detainees participating in group prayer in 2011 (US Navy)

GITMO detainees participating in group prayer in 2011 (US Navy)

Citing the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision, attorneys for two detainees at the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay have filed a motion seeking religious freedom for their Muslim clients.

The lawyers have asked a US district court in Washington, DC to allow their clients, Emad Hassan of Yemen and Ahmed Rabbani of Pakistan, to participate in group prayers during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Al Jazeera reports.

According to the attorneys, the detainees’ religious liberty is protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the law cited by the Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. In that case, five of the nine justices ruled that the Obama administration’s requirement that employers provide their female workers with access to free contraception is an unconstitutional violation of the RFRA.

The motion filed on behalf of the GITMO detainees claims prison officials “prevent them from praying communally during Ramadan,” Islam’s holiest month. During Ramadan, Muslims fast every day from sunrise to sunset and are required to participate in additional group prayers during which they recite the Koran. GITMO officials have banned communal prayers.

Hobby Lobby makes clear that all persons — human and corporate, citizen and foreigner, resident and alien — enjoy the special religious free exercise protections of the RFRA,” the motion states.

One of the attorneys claims GITMO officials are punishing detainees for launching a 2013 hunger strike to protest prison conditions and their continued detention without charge or trial. More than half of the detainees have been cleared for release, many of them by both the Bush and Obama administrations, some since 2004.

“Why are the authorities at Guantánamo Bay seeking to punish detainees for hunger striking by curtailing their right to pray?” detainee attorney Cori Crider asked Al Jazeera. “If, under our law, Hobby Lobby is a ‘person’ with a right to religious freedom, surely GITMO detainees are people too?”

Emad Hassan, one of the detainees filing the motion, has been cleared for release by US authorities since 2009. He has not been charged nor tried for any crime. According to the human rights group Reprieve, the Yemeni was studying in Pakistan in 2002 when he was abducted and sold to US forces for $5,000, a common practice under a bounty program designed to catch terrorism suspects but which in reality was often used to settle personal vendettas.

US Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff during George W. Bush’s first term, claims Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld all knew that the “vast majority” of GITMO detainees were innocent but kept them imprisoned in the notorious lockup, where torture and other abuse were rampant, for political reasons.

Classified US military documents leaked to the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks in 2011 confirmed that 150 innocent men and boys were held at GITMO.

Hassan has been on a hunger strike to protest his wrongful detention for nearly seven years. He has been subjected to brutally painful force-feeding, an internationally-recognized form of torture, since 2007.

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Myles B. Caggins III told Al Jazeera that he is aware of the detainees’ motion and that the “government will respond through the legal system.”

“We are committed to religious freedoms and practices for the detainees, keeping in mind the overall goal of security and safety for detainees and staff,” added Caggins.

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