By Andrew Restuccia The Daily Orange 2/27/06

About 20 Syracuse University students, faculty and concerned citizens gathered for a candlelight vigil to honor Dr. Rafil Dhafir in the lobby of the Syracuse University’s Huntington Beard Crouse building on Sunday night.

The vigil was co-sponsored by the Syracuse Jericho Movement, an advocacy group for political prisoners, and the Muslim Student Association. Dhafir was arrested for his involvement with the charity Help the Needy on Feb. 26, 2003. He is currently in prison serving the first years of his 22-year sentence.

On the same day as his arrest, federal agents questioned a reported 150 families, many of whom were Muslim, about their connection with a charity that broke U.S. sanctions by donating money to Iraqi civilians.

The participants of the vigil met next to the Sacco and Vanzetti mosaic because, like Dhafir, many believe the two Italian anarchists were wrongly convicted.

Standing in a circle, the participants had a chance to speak about Dhafir and the restriction of civil liberties in America.

Yusuf Abdul-Qadir, president of the Muslim Student Association, said Dhafir is not a terrorist. He said the American government is causing the most harm to the country.

“I think that we really need to sit here and think about, if I can be so bold as to say, who are the terrorists,” Abdul-Qadir said.

Magda Bayoumi, a Syracuse resident and SU graduate, said she came to the vigil because federal agents came to her house and questioned her husband on the day Dhafir was arrested.

“I see people being persecuted only because of their religion,” Bayoumi said.

Hari Chathrattil, a master’s student at SU, said as a cancer survivor, he values the work of Dhafir and knows what it means to have a good doctor.

Following the testimonials, Katherine Hughes, a Syracuse resident and creator of the Web site, which tracks civil liberties violations, specifically the Dhafir case, spoke about the affect Dhafir had on her life.

Hughes said she attended the 17-week trial almost every day and became a strong supporter of Dhafir.

“They convicted him as a criminal, but they treated him as a terrorist,” Hughes said.

She also shed light on Dhafir’s character.

“My experience of him during the trial was a man of the utmost compassion and utmost integrity,” Hughes said. “He dedicated his life for 13 years to getting funding to Iraqi civilians.”

She also pointed to Dhafir’s arrest and conviction as a sign of large scale civil injustice in America.

“It is the death of freedom,” Hughes said, referencing an article of the same name. “It’s not just the death of Dr. Dhafir’s freedom; it is the death of all freedom.”

Jennifer Pelton, a junior political science and Spanish major and organizer of the vigil, said students at SU are unaware of Dhafir and the restriction of rights in the Muslim community.

“I think there is a lack of awareness,” she said. “That is something I want to change. I want to inform other people about the situation.”

“A person is innocent until proven guilty, and Dr. Dhafir has not had that right,” Pelton said.