ISLAMABAD, Dec 9: Five Pakistani immigrants who were recently deported from Canada after being dubbed as Al Qaeda sleepers on Tuesday expressed their resolve to clear their names by suing the Canadian government for damages.
Twenty two young Pakistani immigrants were picked up on Aug 14, 2003, from Toronto (Canada) and their names were splashed all across the world with headlines linking them to Al Qaeda and alleging that they had access to nuclear gauges. Later, however, the charges were withdrawn.
“The names of all of us had contained the word ‘Muhammad’ besides we all belonged to Sunni sect and all were from Punjab,” said the deportees which included Muhammad Asif Aziz, Muhammad Wahid, Kashif Siddiq, Imran Yunus Khan and Mudassar Awan at a press conference organized by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), a day prior to the International Human Rights Day, which falls on Dec 10.
“The HRCP is exceedingly worried at the deteriorating situation of human rights the world over,” said renowned human rights activist and former chairman HRCP Asma Jehangir. She also demanded of the Canadian government to order an inquiry into this incident.
Regrettably even governments and countries with a solid record of human rights were pressured by the shrill alarm raised against terrorism, she said adding that their actions were sometimes based on fear and mistrust which were increasingly becoming the driving force of policies devised to counter terrorism. Several laws have been enforced to ostensibly address militancy and terrorism and a number of these have been misused and abused by either governments or law enforcement agencies to victimize innocent people, she said.
Narrating their horrible experiences the five deportees said, they were arrested without warrants, had to spend 89 days in a high security prison in Toronto and for five initial days they were not allowed to contact anyone including their lawyers. They were even threatened in prison by other inmates and one of them was badly beaten up.
“We were treated like convicted persons and were never ever produced before a civilian court except in some immigration court handcuffed and in shackles,” said Muhammad Wahid adding that they even fabricated the date of arrest and that there was only one Indian national among the 22 arrested and that too because his name was also Muhammad.
During interrogation, the Canadian investigators kept on asking about the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden and put racist questions based on our sect and religion.
Our lawyers and friends were also threatened by the Canadian investigators and even the license of one of our counsels was cancelled because he was pursuing our case.
The five deportees rejected the impression that they were victims of a case of mistaken identity saying the Canadian authorities arrested them in full knowledge of what they were doing. During the first 10 days of our arrest, they never even informed the Pakistan Consulate General.
The deportees appreciated the role of the Pakistan Consulate General, which pursued their case later and helped them to return to their motherland. They also informed the press that they were not known to each other before their arrest.
“We believe that the deportees were unfairly stigmatized and ill treated. They were denied due process of law and they continue to pay a price,” observed Asma Jehangir.