The internationally known Syrian singer Mohamad Mustafa Ali Masfaka, more commonly known as Abu Ratib, came to America seeking freedom and opportunity. He became a permanent resident of the U.S. in October of 1997. He has traveled all over the U.S., Europe and Middle East entertaining millions of Arabic-speaking people through radio, television and live performances. During his more than thirteen years in the United States, he has contributed to the rich culture of American society. Abu Rhatib helped establish the International Union for Islamic Art and was recently elected its chairman. He is currently working on his PhD in philosophy.
In September of 2002, Abu Ratib filed his application to become a United States citizen. On September 3, 2003, Abu Ratib agreed to a voluntary interview without legal counsel by the FBI where he was asked about his musical performances in 1997 and 1998 at events sponsored by the Holy Land Foundation. On January 30, 2004, an immigration officer interviewed him about his citizenship application. Abu Ratib did not have legal representation during these interviews.
The government is now accusing Abu Rhatib of making false statements about whether his acceptance of approximately $4500, in exchange for musical performances conducted in the United States, constituted an employee relationship with the sponsor of the event. Notably, the musical performances at issue occurred more than three years before the Holy Land Foundation was charged with or suspected of any criminal activity.
None of the charges against Abu Ratib are terrorism-related. As a Muslim performer whose songs support Palestinian human rights, his case raises concerns of selective prosecution on account of political beliefs and the consequent chilling effect on free speech and the cherished American value of artistic expression. Abu Ratib has pleaded "not guilty" and insists he is "a victim of a lack of the understanding of the English language."
The Muslim Legal Fund of America is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organization that supports legal cases across the country which impact civil rights, freedoms, liberties and principles of justice in America. MLFA is supporting Abu Ratib's case because it raises serious concerns with regard to the FBI’s abuse of voluntary interviews to ensnare American Muslims into the criminal justice system. Under the guise of terrorism prevention, the FBI appears to be targeting American Muslims through voluntary interviews without representation of counsel where well intentioned individuals inadvertently omit information or misstate a fact unrelated to terrorism. Unable to show evidence of terrorism-related activity, the FBI then files criminal charges of making a false statement to a federal official during the voluntary interview.
Abu Rhatib’s case also implicates artists’ First Amendment protected activities expressed through song and musical performances.
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