Link Dr Aafia Siddiqui to case of Pakistanis languishing in foreign jails: SC

Published May 20, 2019
A supporter of Dr Aafia Siddiqui carries a poster size picture of the Pakistani scientist languishing in a US jail. — AFP/File
A supporter of Dr Aafia Siddiqui carries a poster size picture of the Pakistani scientist languishing in a US jail. — AFP/File

The Supreme Court on Monday ordered to club a petition seeking the repatriation of Dr Aafia Siddiqui — a neurologist languishing in a United States jail on charges of trying to kill US agents and military officers in Afghanistan — with a petition seeking repatriation of Pakistanis jailed abroad.

Dr Fauzia Siddiqui, sister of Dr Aafia, had moved the court in 2018 requesting it to order the government to formulate a comprehensive policy for protecting fundamental rights of Pakistanis detained abroad.

During today's hearing of the case, Justice Shaikh Azmat Saeed, while heading a three-judge bench, remarked that the issue of Dr Aafia be raised along with that of other Pakistanis languishing in jails overseas as [approaching the matter in this way] may yield results.

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Deputy Attorney General Ilyas Bhatti informed the court that Dr Aafia avails a counsellor meeting every three months.

Justice Saeed directed the deputy attorney general to review the case and find out if there is a possibility that she can complete her jail term in Pakistan, and adjourned the hearing of the case indefinitely.

Efforts to repatriate Aafia

Last month, Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal said that steps to bring Dr Aafia back were underway and the matter of her return was continuously being raised with Washington.

He added that, with regards Dr Aafia and Shakeel Afridi, Pakistan's stance was the same as before and there had been no change in it.

Dr Fouzia had said in April that "at one point it had seemed as if Aafia was going to come to Pakistan any moment."

She said that she had been reassured by the government that negotiations with the US were ongoing and that "there will be a good news between January and March, but now silence has set in again."

It is pertinent to mention here that last year, Dr Siddiqui's sister, Dr Fouzia, had requested Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to take up the matter with the US, and Qureshi said that efforts were underway to bring her back.

The foreign minister had said that the issue of Dr Siddiqui's repatriation was "being considered", following which Consul General in Houston Aisha Farooqui had met Dr Aafia and urged the US to "respect her human and legal rights".

Case against Aafia

Neuroscientist Dr Aafia Siddiqui was sentenced to 86 years of imprisonment by a US federal court in 2010, after she was convicted of firing at US troops in Afghanistan while in their custody and other six charges against her.

Her lawyers had requested a sentence of 12 years, while prosecutors had pressed for a life sentence.

In 2009, a jury found had found Dr Aafia guilty of seven charges, including two counts of attempted murder. The jury found there wasn't premeditation in the attempted murder charges.

Prosecutors had alleged that Dr Aafia, unbeknownst to some Americans who travelled to Ghazni, was behind a curtain in the second-floor room where they gathered.

She burst out from behind a curtain, grabbed an American soldier's rifle and started firing. She was shot in the abdomen by a soldier who returned fire with his sidearm, the prosecutors said.

During the trial, she testified that she was simply trying to escape the room and was shot by someone who had seen her. She said she was concerned at the time about being transferred to a “secret” prison.

Dr Aafia's family and supporters claim she was arrested in Pakistan and handed over to intelligence agencies, who then transferred her into US custody. Both US and Pakistani officials, however, claim that she was arrested in Afghanistan.

Dr Aafia, who received her graduation degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University in biology and neuroscience while living in the US between 1991 and June 2002, denied grabbing the weapon or having any familiarity with firearms.

She allegedly went missing for five years before she was discovered in Afghanistan.

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