Kurdish Men Avoid Jail Time

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Three local Kurdish men found guilty violating part of the Patriot Act have avoided jail time. The Harrisonburg men were convicted of illegally transferring hundreds of thousands of dollars to northern Iraq without a business license. The men claim they were just sending money to loved ones.

Ahmed Abdullah and Amir Rashid pled guilty and received probation and fines, while Rasheed Qambari pled not guilty. He was found guilty and sentenced to stiffer probation and fines. A fourth man is scheduled to go on trial next month. The government has not accused them of having terrorist ties.

There was a huge outpouring of support for the men Monday with protesters filling Court Square and lining the streets next to the federal court building. The judge asked for those in the court room, who were in support of the defendants, to stand. Nearly all of the citizens stood and when they did the judge simply said, "that's remarkable."

Hundreds of people stood on Court Square and in front of the federal court building to show their support to three Kurdish men. Some say they came to show the Kurdish community that they value them as their neighbors. Others came as friends of those in trouble with the law.

"They break the law we can say that technically, but they didn't break the spirit of the law, that's very important," says Kakahama Askary, a professor at JMU. Askary says the United States is partly to blame. "We don't have a bank system in Iraq and this is the responsibility of the United States authority to provide the legal system for the people to be able to send money for the needy people over there," says Askary.

One man read about the case in the Washington Post and says he was so amazed by the support of the people of the Valley. "That was so powerful, so inspiring and I've been talking about it all over the east coast ever since," says Mauri Saalakham of the Peace and Justice Foundation.

Saalakhan says when he saw the sentencing was Monday, he changed his calendar so he could witness it first hand. "This is what speaks so well of the people of this community that have risen up in support and these men and their families," says Saalakhan.

The judge reiterated numerous times that the community support these men have, says a lot about them.