BOP moves elder Muslim philanthropist from prison medical center to freezing Brooklyn detention center

[Update: Power and heat was restored to MDC Brooklyn the evening of February 3. By the end of February, Rafil Dhafir was moved to FCI Allenwood Low in White Deer, Pennsylvania.]
Within days of his last contact with supporters on January 29, the federal Bureau of Prisons moved Dr. Rafil Dhafir, 70, from the medical center for federal prisoners in Massachusetts, into the Metropolitan Detention Center [MDC] in Brooklyn, New York.

The move comes just after a fire at MDC Brooklyn cut off electricity and heat to the facility as temperatures plunged below freezing to record lows, leaving prisoners and staff freezing in dark cells and corridors only dimly lit by emergency lights. Demonstrators braved the cold overnight on Saturday, February 2 in front of the 14-story prison, where officials have refused outside support. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted that “New York City is sending trucks with hundreds of blankets and hand warmers to the Metropolitan Detention Center NOW and generators are being readied for transport. We’ve told the Federal Bureau of Prisons the supplies are coming – whether they like it or not.”

“It is beyond outrageous that the Bureau of Prisons would pick this time to move a 70-year-old prisoner in poor health into these freezing conditions that are unfit for even the most healthy prisoner. I’m very concerned about how soon he will be able to receive needed medications and medical attention,” said Felice Cohen-Joppa, a member of Dr. Dhafir’s support committee.

Dr. Rafil Dhafir is an Iraqi emigre and oncologist. His case is emblematic of the malicious prosecutions of Muslim philanthropists and charities in the post-9/11 era. Dhafir was an outspoken opponent of the 1991–2003 U.S. sanctions against his native country. As a respected physician and leader among upstate New York Muslims, he established a charity for the beleaguered Iraqis, and donated well over $1 million of his own money to their needs.

Dr. Dhafir has been imprisoned since his surprise arrest on the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when he was denied bail and accused by federal officials of funding terrorists. His home and office were raided and within hours at least 150 donors to the charity had been visited in their homes and interrogated by the FBI. When Dhafir refused a plea bargain on the original 14 charges related to the Iraq sanctions, the government responded with a 59-count indictment, expanding the prosecution to include 25 counts of Medicare fraud for receiving improper reimbursements totaling much less than the charity he gave. No evidence of his funding terrorism came into the trial, so the defense was not permitted to mention or refute the widely-publicized accusations, which were insinuated again at sentencing and while serving his sentence.

As a federal prisoner in 2006, Dhafir was among the first small group of federal prisoners picked for placement in a so-called “Communications Management Unit”, a repressive innovation that targeted Muslims with strict limits on and surveillance of all written, phone and personal communications with the outside world. In recent years at the Devens Federal Medical Center in Ayers, Massachusetts, he has been subjected to repeated harassment during the month of Ramadan fasts and placed in isolation while alleged disciplinary infractions were investigated and then dismissed without explanation.

According to a 2012 court filing, Dhafir “suffers from inguinal hernia, diabetes, limited mobility in his shoulder that has not been definitively diagnosed, fasciitis of the left foot, hypertension and elevated cholesterol, significant back pain, prostatic hypertrophy and neuropathy, incipient cataracts and chronic gout – all of which have developed since his incarceration.”

[Feb. 4th a.m. Update: power, heat, email were restored as of Sunday evening,  February 3 and we are awaiting further news. Calls and emails to the prison are not needed.] All visits at MDC Brooklyn have been suspended until further notice, and inmates are also cut off from phone and email contact with family, friends and attorneys. Supporters may voice their concerns for all prisoners at MDC Brooklyn by calling 718-840-4200 or emailing the administration at BRO/ 

A summary of Dhafir’s case can be found here
Letters of support should be sent to Rafil Dhafir 11921-052, MDC Brooklyn, Metropolitan Detention Center, P.O. Box 329002, Brooklyn, NY 11232. You can check the listing at to see if he has been moved to another prison.