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Angry over arrest, Nation of Islam official sues Guyanese police

By Moni Basu, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Akbar Muhammad says he was arrested illegally
  • His lawsuit claims his reputation was smeared
  • Police in Guyana arrested him on suspicions of terrorism and drug-trafficking
  • Muhammad says all unwarranted accusations against Muslims have to stop

(CNN) -- A top Nation of Islam official said Friday that he plans to sue the police who arrested him two months ago in Guyana for unlawful arrest and defamation of character.

Akbar Muhammad, 69, said he was wrongfully arrested and detained based on his religion and affiliation with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. He served as Farrakhan's top aide between 1965 and 1974.

Police in the South American nation of Guyana arrested him in May on suspicion of terrorism and drug-trafficking but he was never charged.

"What they did was absolutely wrong," Muhammad said. "They put my name out all over the world as a terrorist and drug trafficker."

"When people smear your name you have to make some noise, you have to take a position," he said. "I'm doing this, yes, for my personal reputation. But I'm (also) doing it for Muslims."

Muhammad, the international representative of the Nation of Islam -- an African-American religious movement that gained attention in the 1950s under the leadership of Malcolm X -- traveled to Guyana in May to appear on television programs and to speak with children in impoverished areas about social issues.

He said police knocked at his door at Georgetown's Princess Hotel in the middle of the night and threatened to knock the door down. The authorities claimed they had been tipped off by the CIA, according to Muhammad.

Muhammad was detained overnight in what he described as a filthy, crowded cell.

He was released the next day without ever being charged. He believes his detention might have been politically motivated.

Guyana remains a racially and ethnically divided nation, with distrust existing between the native-dominated ruling party and the black-supported opposition, according to the U.S. State Department.

National elections are scheduled for August.

Muhammad said his trip was not about politics, but he believed he drew the ire of the government for appearing on a TV station aligned with the opposition.

Prior to filing his lawsuit, he said he demanded an apology from Guyanese authorities -- which never came.

An attempt to obtain comment from President Bharrat Jagdeo's office was not immediately successful Friday. But Jagdeo told Guyanese newspaper journalists last week that his government will not issue an apology to Muhammad.

Jagdeo said law enforcement agencies had intelligence and information to justify Muhammad's detention. He said police were obligated to arrest him for national security reasons.

"They arrested him; no one, excluding the president, is immune from being arrested," Jagdeo said.

Muhammad insists that the Guyanese government's position is not acceptable.

He said he has a heart condition and was denied his medication while in custody, something he claims could have caused him to become seriously ill. He also said that the suspicions about him were ludicrous, adding that he feels innocent Muslims all over the world -- not just him -- are being unfairly targeted.

"I have fought for 51 years of my life against the abuse of illegal drugs that has devastated the black community," Muhammad said. "I had 14 grandchildren looking at pictures of me on television as a terrorist and a drug runner."

Muhammad's attorney, Martin McMahon, said the accusations against his client were "serious" and that the lawsuit against Guyana's police, which is being filed in federal court in Washington, will ask for damages. Muhammad and his lawyers plan to announce the lawsuit at a news conference in front of the Guyana Embassy in Washington on Tuesday.

"Unfortunately, his reputation has been shattered worldwide because a lot of news articles repeated the lie that he supported terrorism and is a drug trafficker," McMahon said. "Had they simply checked the facts, they would never have arrested him, and he wouldn't have been humiliated about these nefarious crimes."

Muhammad said that if he wins in court, he will use any financial damages to help innocent Muslims falsely accused of crimes because of their names and spiritual practices.

Muhammad, who was born Lawrence Prescott and now lives in St. Louis, lectures to civic organizations, students and business leaders around the world.

The FBI raided his house in St. Louis in 2007, according to an article in The Final Call, a newspaper started by Farrakhan.

In 2009, Muhammad pleaded guilty to mail fraud after being accused of using different names on applications for loans and credit, court records show. He was sentenced to five years' probation, but has been able to travel.