“There is a lot of injustice out there – try to fix that. Do not resort to any violent means in my name. Be passionate, be compassionate and merciful.” These were the impassioned words of Dr Aafia Siddiqui to her supporters after she was sentenced to 86 years imprisonment in a United States court for crimes she claims she did not commit.
Aafia was convicted on charges of attempted murder of US personnel, assault with a deadly weapon and carrying and using a firearm. However, it was a long road for Aafia prior to her sentencing. Her sister, Dr Fawzia Siddiqui is currently in South Africa as part of the Free Aafia Campaign hosted by Channel Islam International.
Aafia, a Pakistani cognitive neuroscientist, is described as a generous human being, always trying to make a difference in the lives of people who were worse off than her. She raised money for Bosnian war orphans, provided Qurans to local jails, volunteered at old age homes and with autistic children and campaigned for clean parks.
“This makes her a missionary, not a terrorist,” Dr Fawzia told VOC Drivetime. World-renowned academic Professor Noam Chomsky said Aafia is an institution herself as she will bring change wherever she goes. “She had a dream to bring education reform where it was needed the most – the slums and villages of Pakistan.”
She added that her sister wanted an education system that would allow the youth to question the status quo and the Western double standards. “It seems this dream was a crime that was too much for the imperialists to handle. She was in the process of going to Islamabad with her plans on that fateful day of March 2003. She left the home with her three children aged five, three and six months. She left and she never came back.”
Aafia, along with her children, was abducted. For five years nobody knew where they were. Her family was led to believe that they were dead. “It was as if Aafia and her three children had vanished from the surface of the earth,” said Dr Fawzia. “No matter where we went and what we did, we couldn’t find her.” In 2008, when prisoners were released from the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and repatriated back to the United Kingdom, they told Dr Fawzia they identified a female prisoner as her sister. Aafia became known as “Prisoner 650 – The Grey Lady of Bagram”.
When Dr Fawzia decided to search for her sister, and almost immediately she received word that Aafia was in Afghanistan, as Afghan police received a tip-off that a suicide bomber was on their way and were ordered to shoot on site. Numerous efforts were made by human rights groups for Afghan and Pakistani authorities to reveal the whereabouts of Aafia, but suddenly “Prisoner 650” vanished.
While the search for Aafia continued, there were several disturbing stories about the fates of her children. A human rights organisation traced Aafia’s eldest son and her daughter. They were kept in a prison-like confinement. “They are with me now and they are recovering,” said Dr Fawzia. “Insha-Allah one day they probably will be able to tell their own story themselves.” There have been conflicting reports about the baby. “We have been led to believe that he is dead.”
According to a report, while in detention, there was a scuffle between Aafia and prison officials. “At the time of the scuffle Aafia was not letting go of the baby and she was yelling and screaming ‘not my baby, I am not going to give my baby’,” said Dr Fawzia. “Apparently the baby fell and was seen on the ground in a pool of blood.”
The five years that Aafia has been missing from 2003 to 2008 remains a mystery, even to her immediate family. During brief visits with her brother and lawyers while detained in the US, the mention of those five years was forbidden. Dr Fawzia said that, despite all the plans to defame her sister, she appears more and more innocent.
Some might wonder how Aafia ended up in a US court and serving 86 years jail time. Dr Fawzia was not present at the court during the trial. However, a non-Muslim witness that was present at every court appearance reported back to her. He said: “The story that the US told in court involved a group of military and FBI ransacking an Afghan police station interrogating Aafia.
“There were two dozen people plus furniture in a room that was roughly 20 ft by 30 ft in dimensions. A soldier sat by a curtain. Aafia walked out from behind the curtain, snatched up his rifle and began shooting. She shot at a rampage. No one was hurt in that crowded room. In return, Aafia was shot by another soldier in the abdomen and in the chest at close range.
“The next day soldiers and the FBI returned to collect evidence. They took pictures of everything and found two bullet holes and no bullets. These are the holes Aafia was supposed to have made. On the last day of the trial, a video was shown which provided photographic proof the holes were there a week before the shooting. The prosecutor simply said they [bullets] may have gone somewhere else but she is guilty.
“Aafia did not leave fingerprints on the rifle, nor blood stains, nor did the rifle show evidence of having been fired. The scientific evidence refuted all the prosecution’s claims. The eyewitnesses differed from each other on their accounts. This is the definition of reasonable doubt. The eyewitnesses got significant promotions and rewards for their participation. The Afghan interpreter got a green card. One of the FBI guys was put in charge of the Attorney-General’s security. The list goes on…
“But that day I learnt acceptance for a Muslim. Evidence of her involvement in terrorism was introduced all over the media, though in court it was announced by the judge Aafia is not being tried for terrorism. It was announced that there is no evidence of any involvement with Al Qaeda, the Taliban or any terrorist organisation.
“Aafia was not allowed to challenge this though it was spread all over the media because it was not relevant to the charges. But it was still admitted as evidence in the court of public opinion. It made her look scary. It was easy for the jury to charge her. Everything above was part of the trial. I was there. I am neither judge nor jury. I am a witness.”
During her trial, Aafia was never given the chance to choose her own legal representatives. She wasn’t even allowed to discuss her case with her family. She was told she wasn’t competent enough to choose her own attorneys. “If she wasn’t competent to pick her own attorney how can she be competent to stand to trail?” questioned Dr Fawzia.
Even when it was time for Aafia to appeal, she was not allowed to choose her legal representatives. Instead, one of the US state attorneys that she fired filed an appeal without her or her family knowing. “So this is injustice in the name of justice,” Dr Fawzia. “We have no political or ideological issues with the US – it’s just one of justice. We’re all proud of our education from the US. We wish friendship but with mutual respect and fair treatment, which it seems Muslims and many minorities like African-Americans are not getting.”
Dr Fawzia said South Africa is the first stop as part of the Free Aafia Campaign, as South Africans can relate to the unfair treatment and injustices Aafia is experiencing, due to apartheid. “Aafia is this pawn caught in the big war on terror … Mandela was not a terrorist but he was labelled and imprisoned as one … and the struggle continues.”
Despite knowing how brutally her sister has been treated and the torture she endured, Dr Fawzia said she is consoled by the thought the Allah is always with her. “She has faith in God and I have faith in God and I know that God loves us so much that He will never forsake us,” said Dr Fawzia. “I know that He is with Aafia. He is closer to Aafia than any of us can be. He loves her more than 70 mothers put together. He is there and He has protected her.” VOC (Faatimah Hendricks)
This article originally appeared here.