It's been ten years since Syracuse-area oncologist Dr. Rafil Dhafir was arrested for crimes involving the Muslim charity Help the Needy. Dhafir continues to serve a 22-year prison sentence after he was convicted of violating U.S. sanctions against his native Iraq by sending money there. In 2005, a federal jury convicted him of 59 felonies, including fraud and tax evasion, among other things. But Dhafir's conviction and incarceration still has some central New Yorker's crying foul.
Mohamed Khater, President of the Islamic Society of Central New York, believes Dhafir was doing humanitarian work through his charity, not committing crimes.
"He was helping people in his home country in Iraq," said Khater. "After the sanctions against Iraq in the '90s, a lot of people died, it was by the admission of the US government that 500-thousand children died as a direct result of sanctions.
Khater says he believes at the time of Dhafir's sentence, the U.S. government was treating a whole segment of American society as criminals.
"All the Muslim charities were targeted, anybody who was doing something with money, who was helping people outside, everybody was saying they are sending money to terrorists at the time," said Khater.
A group of Dhafir supporters continues to try to get the word out about what they call a major injustice. A vigil was held Tuesday and a celebration of Dhafir's life is scheduled for Tuesday evening.
Appeals of the conviction and sentence have so far been unsuccessful. Katherine Hughes of the Dr. Dhafir Support Committee says Dhafir is not well, and ultimately hopes he is freed, sooner rather than later.
"The fact that he's been in prison for ten years is a great shame. But if he dies in prison, that would be a tragedy," said Hughes.