Durban City Centre brought to a halt at FREE AAFIA PROTEST
25 March 2013
South Africans flocked on Friday 22nd March to the United States Consulate, situated in the heart of the city centre in Durban, in solidarity with the Global Free Aafia Movements to protest on the tenth anniversary of the abduction of Dr. Siddiqui and her three children in Karachi, Pakistan. The picket drew huge public interest as thousands of motorists and pedestrians of all races witnessing the event. The audience was extremely vocal and passionate chants of "Free Free Aafia", echoed through one of the busiest streets in the city. The protesters demanded for an end to the oppression and injustices against Dr Aafia Siddiqui and demanded her repatriation to Pakistan.
The protest action which was held under banner of the "Free Aafia Foundation", was supported by a number of organisations and human rights activists. The picket began with a "flash mob" live demonstration, enacting the kidnapping of a screaming Aafia in the streets of Karachi, being dragged away from her children and brutally beaten and tortured. Shabnam Mohammed, an activist who played the part of Aafia was thrown into a mock cell. With deafening screams, she pleaded for help and repeatedly cried out about the whereabouts of her children.
Full Story here.
Edhi Appeals Zardari, Obama for Aafia's Release
13 March, 2013 KARACHI - Human rights activist Abdul Sattar Edhi here Tuesday visited the "10 years-10 days" camp at Karachi Press Club (KPC) in connection to raise the issue of Dr Aafia Siddiqui on the completion of her first 10 years in the American imprisonment.
Writing comments in the guest book on the occasion, he said: "I appeal to the US government to release Dr Aafia on humanitarian grounds." He said he hoped that the American government would consider his appeal. He said if any imprisonment is necessary he should be put in jail instead of Dr Aafia.
On the occasion, Dr Azra and other workers of Aafia Movement welcomed Edhi.
Dr Azra told him that a Christian student Fahar Amjad had staged a hunger strike camp and demanded of the US President Obama to release Dr Aafia as the Christmas gift and appealed him to put him in jail in place of Aafia.
On the occasion, Abdul Sattar Edhi appealed to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and US President Obama to release Aafia. He said when the children of the nation show such a commitment, the future of the nation would be bright. He hoped that Dr Aafia would soon return home.
by Yvonne Ridley
Jan 19, 2013
THE only thing that surprised me when I heard that the Algerian kidnappers had called for the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui was that it hadn't happened sooner.
Don't get me wrong, as a former hostage myself, there is no way I condone the actions of what has unfolded in a remote corner of the Algerian desert.
And my heart goes out to the families of those who have lost loved ones in the unfolding drama at the In Amenas gas plant siege said to have been masterminded by Mohktar Belmokhtar. The infamous one-eyed Algerian militant apparently with ties to al Qaida, has claimed responsibility for launching Wednesday's attack.
It also goes without saying there is no way the kidnappers, whether politically or criminally motivated, can be justified in their actions.
But an injustice is an injustice and as the only western journalist to have specifically gone to Afghanistan to investigate the case of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, I have to say her plight has become a cause célèbre around the Muslim world.
And I have an uncomfortable feeling that more and more westerners will be kidnapped as their captors demand the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a woman I once called the most wronged in the world.
So just who is Dr Aafia Siddiqui and why is a group of North Africans calling for her release?
Well it's very easy to get emotional about a wronged Muslim woman caught up in the War on Terror but I am not basing my case on emotion just some simple cold, hard facts and forensic evidence ... or lack of it, but more of that and her bizarre story later.
Her family will certainly not be pleased that a group of Algerian terrorists have called for her release because it will give a perception in some quarters that Dr Aafia must be an Islamic extremist. It's a narrative pushed by US intelligence although it has to be said in her trial the opening statement of the prosecutor stated quite clearly that she was not al-Qaida nor a terrorist sympathiser.
The case of the mother-of-three is well known in every household in Pakistan from the most religious to the most secular ... the majority of which have been demanding her repatriation for years. Now she is known as the Daughter of the Nation although her story has travelled well beyond Pakistan's borders.
Thousands of Muslim children have been named after her because of all that she has come to symbolise. Everything that she represents stems from the injustices created by America's War on Terror ... the kidnaps, renditions, torture, rape and waterboarding.
The brilliant academic, a neuro scientist, educated in top US universities, is tonight languishing in a Texan jail serving an 86 year sentence after being found guilty of trying to kill American soldiers.
The fact they shot her at close range and nearly killed her is often overlooked.
To their eternal shame, the US soldiers serving in Afghanistan claimed in court under oath that the diminutive, fragile academic leapt at them from behind a prison cell curtain, snatching one of their guns to shoot and kill them. It was a fabricated story that any defence lawyer worth his or her salt would have ripped apart at the seams.
The scenario painted in court was incredulous and more importantly, the evidence non existent – no gunshot residue on her hands or clothes, no bullets from the discharged gun, no fingerprints belonging to Dr Aafia on the gun ... other vital evidence removed by US military from the scene went missing before the trial. Come on, we've all seen episodes of CSI – the science doesn't lie.
After being patched up in a medical wing in Bagram, she was then renditioned to America to stand trial for an alleged crime committed in Afghanistan. Flouting the Vienna and Geneva Conventions, she wasn't given consular access until the day she made her first court appearance.
The trial was held in New York, a stone's throw from where the Twin Towers once stood making it impossible not to invoke the memories of that horrific day on September 11 which for some forever turned Muslims into Public Enemy Number One.
A lack lustre legal team forced on Dr Aafia by the US authorities failed to sway the jury of her innocence, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that she could not have snatched a soldier's gun let alone pull the trigger.
I went into the cell in Ghazni a few weeks after the shooting in July 2008 and discovered that the soldiers had panicked and sprayed the room with bullets as they struggled to flee. The evidence is there on film shot during my visit and handed over to the defence team.
The prosecutors could not believe a western journalist had travelled to this part of Afghanistan and obtained compelling witness and visual evidence. Soon after that vital forensic evidence including spent bullets that had been gouged out of a wall in the cell, went missing.
Seeing Dr Aafia emerge unshackled and unhooded from behind a curtain caused blind panic among the young soldiers who had been briefed by the FBI they were going to arrest one of the most dangerous women in the world.
I interviewed eyewitnesses, senior Afghan police officers and one after another told me their acount of what happened. Yet the only Afghan brought to court to give testimony against her was the FBI's translator who now has a green card and lives in New York with his family.
What the jury was not told is that Dr Aafia, and her three children, all aged under five at the time, had been kidnapped from a street near their home in Karachi and disappeared from 2003.
The FBI put out a story at the time that she had in fact gone on a jihad to Afghanistan – it was a ludicrous tale without foundation and, as every mother of young children knows, a journey to the local corner shop with toddlers is a monumental challenge so heading off to fight in Afghanistan with a pram, pushchair and toddler in hand is simply inconceivable. The FBI narrative was destroyed by Boston-based Elaine Whitfield Sharp, a lawyer hired by the Siddiqui family when Dr Aafia first disappeared.
The missing years of the academic's life reveal a story which is now known to virtually everyone in the Muslim world where she is widely regarded as a victim of George W Bush's War on Terror.
As she tried to tell the jury how she was held in secret prisons, with no legal representation, cut off from the outside world since 2003 where brutal interrogation techniques were used to break her down, she was silenced by the judge who said he was only interested in the cell shooting incident.
Judge Richard Berman, a modest little man with much to be modest about, insisted he was not interested in the missing years; it had no relevance to the case he insisted.
She testified that after completing her doctorate studies she taught in a school, and that her interest was in cultivating the capabilities of dyslexic and other special needs children. She emerged as a humanity-loving nurturer and educator, the gentle yet resolute seeker for truth and justice.
As the evidence continued we learned that she didn't know where her three children were – it was sensational content for those who knew the real story. She talked of her dread and fear of being handed back to the Americans when she was arrested in Ghazni and was held by police.
Terrified that yet another secret prison was waiting for her she revealed how she peeked through the curtain divider into the part of the room where Afghans and Americans were talking, and how when a startled American soldier noticed her, he jumped up and yelled that the prisoner was loose, and shot her in the stomach. She described how she was also shot in the side by a second person. She also described how after falling back onto the bed in the room, she was violently thrown to the floor and lost consciousness. This ties in exactly with what I was told by the counter terrorism police chief I interviewed in Afghanistan back in the autumn of 2008 – I remember him laughing as he told me how the US soldiers panicked, shot randomly in the air as they stampeded out of the room in a blind panic.
Of course there's no way a bunch of soldiers are going to admit they lost it, but according to those I interviewed for my film In search of Prisoner 650 in Afghanistan that's exactly what happened.
Two of her missing children have since been found and reunited with their extended family in Karachi. It is still not clear where the children were held when they were snatched from a street in Karachi but there's no disguising their American accents ... possibly picked up from their jailers.
So why did the FBI want to speak to Dr Aafia in the first place and why did they portray her as a dangerous terrorist on the run? if she was the person they painted why wasn't she charged with terrorism offences and why was the prosecutor at pains to point out that she was not al Qaida?
One person who might hold the key is Dr Aafia's ex-husband who has resisted attempts to be interviewed by me. He was going through a very combative and bitter divorce in the months before she disappeared. He first came to the attention of the FBI in 2002 when he was living in America but what he told them that would lead them to suspect his ex-wife of wrongdoing is anyone's guess.
Who snatched Dr Aafia and her children? I don't know, but I have also tracked down several ex-Bagram detainees who told me they saw Dr Aafia being held in Bagram in 2005 and gave a positive identity of her by photographs before her kidnap and after her arrest in Ghazni.
The bottom line is Dr Aafia Siddiqui should not be in prison and as long as this injustice continues she will become a rallying call for anyone who wants to pick a fight with America.
Acknowledging the injustice and returning Dr Aafia to her home in Pakistan will not stop extremists from causing terror, but it might make the lives of US citizens a lot safer if this wrong is put to right.
* British journalist Yvonne Ridley is a patron of Cageprisoners as well as being the European President of the International Muslim Women's Union and the Vice President of the European Muslim League.
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In a Twitter message, Mr. Khurshid Kasuri, former foreign minister of Pakistan (under General Musharraf) admits to handing over Dr. Aafia to the US and expresses regret. His Tweet is quoted below:
I'm so sorry for handing over the innocent @DrAafiaSiddiqui to the Americans. It was my biggest mistake ever!.Khurshi Kasuri (Former Foreign Minister)
by Joe Lombardo, UNAC co-coordinator
I arrived in Islamabad at 2:30 am on October 3 with about 7 other members of our delegation after a grueling fight from New York. We were part of the Code Pink anti-drone delegation to Pakistan. On arrival in Islamabad, we were amazed to see a large group of people welcoming us from the Aafia Siddiqui movement. This is a movement in support of Aafia Siddiqui who is in solitary confinement in a Texas prison serving an 86 year sentence. Aafia, like other Muslims in prison in the U.S. as part of the phony "War on Terror," is guilty of nothing. ...
... Aafia Siddiqui is a young Pakistani woman who was educated in the U.S. She did undergraduate work at MIT and got doctorate from Brandeis. She eventually returned to Karachi, Pakistan where her family lives. She had 3 children, 2 born in the U.S., making them U.S. citizens. In 2003, Aafia took her 3 children, ages 6 months to 6 years, on a trip to Islamabad and disappeared. The U.S. and Pakistani government both denied having her in custody. Five years passed and her family feared she and her children were dead when they got word from a reporter that she was alive and at Bagram Air base in Afghanistan. NBC news also confirmed this and the U.S. government finally admitted they had her in custody. She was taken to the U.S. and tried for assaulting a U.S. soldier in Ghazni, Afghanistan while she was in custody waiting to be interrogated. She was convicted and is now serving 86 year in solitary confinement at the notorious Carswell prison in Texas. Her family has had almost no contact with her and have been denied the right to visit. Her son Ahmed, a U.S. citizen, was found in 2008 in Ghazni, Afghjanistan. He was then reunited with Aafia's sister, who heads her defense campaign in Pakistan. Aafia's daughter, Maryum, also a U.S. citizen, was mysteriously dropped off in April 2010 near her aunt's house in Karachi after being missing for 7 years. When dropped off, the only language she knew was English, which she spoke with a perfect American accent. Aafia's youngest child, a boy, remains missing and is feared dead...
... On our second day in Pakistan, .. Judy Bello and I spoke at a press conference with Fowzia Siddiqui and people from the Committee of the Disappeared. As in Latin American under various dictatorships, people in Pakistan were disappeared as happened to Aafia Saddiqui. Judy and I spoke at the press conference along with Aafia's sister, the woman who heads the Committee of the Disappeared and a couple of other people. There were a lot of media, and they asked a lot of good questions. Outside the press conference, about 100 people, mostly women and children who are family members of the disappeared were waiting for us. We met with them. They wanted to be with us, many were crying. They carried pictures of their loved ones in the hope that it would help them find them. It was one of those situations where you just feel helpless, and there is nothing that you can say.
... We learned that drones fly overhead 24 hours a day. People are afraid to congregate, fearing they we be seen as a gathering of "militants" and will be attacked. Children no longer go to school because of fear that they will be attacked. This has caused a lot of psychological disorders in this area, and for the first time in their communities they are seeing instances of suicide. At one point, the regional jirga was targeted and 54 people were killed. Typically, the U.S. and Pakistan don't give compensation when someone is killed by the drones, but in this case they offered $6,000 for each family. This is a lot of money for these people, but it was refused by everyone. They said they want justice, not money.
... Also at the meeting was a journalist from North Waziristan who has been documenting the drone strikes. When there is a strike, he gets notified and goes to the site and records who is killed and takes pictures. Some of these pictures were blown up and put on our busses as we rode towards Waziristan the following day. Because of their customs, he is unable to take pictures of women or even record their names, but he has recorded the time and place where 670 women have been killed by the drones. This is far different than what we heard from the [American] ambassador . I tend to believe the journalist from North Waziristan rather than our government who lied to us about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq...
... On Tuesday and Wednesday, Judy Bello and I separated from the group to spend a day in Karachi with the Aafia folks and another in Lahore with the LPP folks. When we got off of the plane in Karachi, we were met by a group of people holding a big banner stating, "Welcome to our distinguished guests, Joe Lombardo and Judy Bello." We were taken by car to Aafia's home to meet her mother and children. All along the road, we saw banners and wall writing in honor of Aafia Siddiqui. My favorite sign said, "86 years – bullshit."
... At one point, there was a truck in the middle of the road surrounded by people and cars. The truck had speakers on it that were playing a song sung in Urdu. It was a popular folk song written about Aafia. Our car fell in behind the sound truck and started a caravan to Aafia's house. As we got closer, the road became packed with people welcoming us, waving, chanting, giving peace signs, and throwing flowers. The major road we were on was taken over by this crowd, and our car went along with them at a slow pace. At one point I got out and walked with the crowd. The police escorted us and smiled and waved at us. As we got closer to Aafia's home, her entire street had been plastered with huge pictures of demonstrations held across Pakistan and in other countries demanding her release. There was one picture of a demonstration in Pakistan that we were told was attended by over a million people.
...We held a well-attended press conference at Aafia's house and met her mother and her son and daughter. As always, they fed us till we could not look at food anymore.
After meeting the family, we were taken to the University of Karachi, where Judy and I spoke to a lecture hall full of students and answered questions. It was a very good exchange, and they were friendly and happy to see us, but the questions brought home once again how much people hate the U.S. government and don't understand why it does such terrible things...
... On the way back from this meeting, we were taken to a commercial area near the docks. There we found the sound truck again playing Aafia's song and a crowd of young men demonstrating for her freedom. Once again, we were greeted like heroes. We all got out of the car and marched with the protesters. We carried lit torches through the streets...
Full article can be viewed here:
This day in 2010 Richard Berman Condemned Aafia to 86 Years of Isolation
In response, on Sep 28, 2010, a million people poured into the streets of Karachi to peacefully express their support for Dr. Aafia Siddiqui following the actions of Richard Berman on Sept 23, 2010. This has to date been the largest public rally in recent Pakistani history and one that stayed true to Aafia's request that no violence be done in her name.
A Reflection from British Author and Commentator, Andy Worthington:
I’m sorry to report that it’s two years since the Pakistani neuroscientist Dr. Aafia Siddiqui received an 86-year sentence in a court in New York...
The trial of Aafia Siddiqui, which culminated in her sentence, and which I described at the time as “barbaric,” appeared to be a cover for a much grimmer story — one of the darkest in the whole of the torture-filled “war on terror” — in which, on the basis of alleged connections with terrorism that have never been proved, she had disappeared with her children in Pakistan in March 2003 and was then held in a “black site” until her engineered reappearance in Ghazni in 2008.
According to the US authorities, after being captured in a bewildered state, she allegedly tried and failed to shoot the Americans guarding her, which provided an excuse to render her to the US to be put on trial — an unusual move given that most people accused of anti-American activities in Afghanistan did not end up in the US — and for her to be silenced as a result of the 86-year sentence handed down after a trial that critics called “a grave miscarriage of justice,” and to be held in isolation in a psychiatric prison/hospital for women in Carswell, Texas, notoriously referred to as the “hospital of horrors”, where her health continues to deteriorate, and where she is denied meaningful contact with her family...
As time passes ...several significant figures have very publicly expressed their disgust at Aafia’s plight, and the severity of her sentence. Recently, for example, former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark visited Pakistan and stated, “Justice demands that Aafia Siddiqui should immediately be released. I haven’t witnessed such bare injustice in my entire career.” In addition, Khurshid Kasuri, Pakistan’s foreign minister under Pervez Musharraf, the President at the time of Aafia’s disappearance, has stated, “I’m so sorry for handing over the innocent Dr. Aafia Siddiqui to the Americans. It was my biggest mistake ever.”
Furthermore, just this week US Senator Mike Gravel, accompanied by the attorney Tina Foster of the International Justice Network, also visited Pakistan, where, as the Express Tribune described it, they “said that the Musharraf regime had illegally kidnapped Dr. Aafia along with her three children from Karachi in March 2003, and handed her over to the US government for illegal interrogation and secret detention based on completely false information.” The Express Tribune added that Sen. Gravel “maintained that Dr Aafia’s trial in the United States was illegal,” and “added that the US government had no moral or legal justification for their actions.”
Both he and Tina Foster stressed, however, that the Pakistani government “would have to take serious action if it wanted Dr. Siddiqui to be repatriated.” Foster said, “We have received no cooperation from the Government of Pakistan in securing Dr Siddiqui’s repatriation to Pakistan. There’s been a lot of talk, but no concrete steps have been taken despite numerous requests for assistance.” She added, “I’ve come on a humanitarian mission to ask Pakistani leadership for its assistance in returning Dr. Siddiqui to Pakistan. It’s obvious that the will of the Pakistani people is being ignored by their leadership.”...
Mr. Worthington's full posting can be viewed here
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