Appeal Case #1 – Dr. Rafiq Sabir (Criminal Appeal)

Dr. Sabir is a physician who was born and raised in New York and who converted to Islam in the 1980s. Years later, unbeknownst to Dr. Sabir, a friend of his made promises on his behalf to an undercover FBI agent who was posing as an al Qaida recruiter. When Dr. Sabir’s friend introduced him to the agent, the agent asked him to repeat a bayat (or pledge) in Arabic. The problem: Dr. Sabir did not understand Arabic beyond casual niceties and some religious phrases so he struggled to follow the agent’s words.

At his trial, the government claimed that Dr. Sabir pledged allegiance to al Qaida. Dr. Sabir urged his former attorney to hire an Arabic language expert to corroborate his testimony that he did not understand the pledge was to al Qaida. The attorney failed to do so. The trial reflects the common misunderstanding that any Muslim American must necessarily speak and understand Arabic. This is precisely what the prosecutor argued to the jury at trial. Dr. Sabir was convicted of attempting to support terrorism and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

In 2017, CLCMA’s Criminal and Civil attorneys took over Dr. Sabir’s case and learned during their investigation that the government also unlawfully withheld important evidence at trial that would have shown Dr. Sabir had no intention to support al Qaida. Dr. Sabir and CLCMA filed motions seeking to overturn his conviction based on his former attorney’s failure to obtain an Arabic language expert as well as the government’s suppression of evidence. After the lower court refused to consider his motions and new evidence, CLCMA filed a brief seeking review from the Second Court of Appeals. But it declined to consider his appeal.

In October 2021, CLCMA’s Criminal Department and Appellate Attorney worked together to petition the Supreme Court to grant review of Dr. Sabir’s case. CLCMA expects to learn whether the Supreme Court accepts his case within the next six months.