A New York judge briefly barred a group of Muslim students from entering a public courtroom.
Judge Katherine Forrest of the US Southern District Court of New York stopped the trial upon the arrival of 16 students dressed in uniforms and hijabs (head coverings) from the Razi School, an Islamic private school in Queens. The judge called the student’s presence “gamesmanship” and held a conference with the trial lawyers while the students were forced to remain outside the court.
The unusual incident occurred last week at a civil trial of U.S. government against the Alavi Foundation. The U.S. government alleges that 650 Fifth Avenue, an office tower which is 60% owned by the Alavi Foundation, is clandestinely owned by the Iranian government.
Judge Forrest expressed concern that the presence of the Muslim students was a ploy by Alavi’s attorney, John Gleeson, to garner undue sympathy with the jury.
“The judge is out of line here,” said Sayyed Musawi, a social studies teacher at Razi who chaperoned the Muslim students. According to the Associated Press, Musawi said he convinced the school to approve the field trip in order to provide a venue for his students to better learn about the legal system. He denied knowing the lawyers in the case. He also said he was not trying to sway the jury in any way on behalf of the Alavi Foundation.
The students, including some who had participated in mock court sessions, were told that the judge was allowing them into the public courtroom.
“We were shocked,” said Eman Osman, the other social studies teacher. Osman said the students were very disappointed not to allowed into the courtroom.
Attorneys representing the U. S. government reminded the judge that it was a public courtroom and they were not opposed to having the students enter the courtroom.
After the lunch recess, the judge allowed the youngsters into court, all ten girls with white head scarves which are part of the private school’s uniform.
The U.S. Government is pressing for forfeiture of 650 Fifth Avenue and the trial has been contentious. Last week, Judge Forrest publicly scolded a former judge for making statements in court which she considered politically charged.