ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has lodged a formal complaint with US authorities, the Pakistani foreign office said on Saturday, over the alleged assault last month of jailed neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui by a fellow inmate at a prison in Texas.
A 42-year-old mother of three with degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University, Siddiqui is serving an 86-year sentence at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) in Carswell, after a New York court in 2010 convicted her on terrorism charges for attempting to shoot and kill in Afghanistan a group of US soldiers and FBI agents who wanted to interrogate her for alleged links to Al-Qaeda.
Last month, she was assaulted by a fellow inmate at the FMC, foreign office spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said in a statement.
“We lodged a formal complaint with the relevant US authorities to thoroughly investigate the matter and ensure the safety and well-being of Dr Siddiqui,” he said.
“We learnt of an assault on Dr Afia Siddiqui by a fellow inmate at FMC Carswell on 30 July 2021,” Chaudhri. “She had received some minor injuries but was doing fine.”
He added that the Pakistani embassy in Washington DC and the consulate general in Houston continued making every effort “to ensure that Dr. Siddiqui is properly looked after during her incarceration at FMC Carswell.”
Siddiqui was arrested in July 2008 by Afghan police, who said she was carrying 900 grams of sodium cyanide and crumpled notes referring to mass casualty attacks and New York landmarks.
One day after her arrest, as the FBI wanted to interrogate her, she grabbed an M-4 rifle in her interrogation room and shot at them. No one was hit, but Siddiqui was shot and wounded in response, according to US prosecutors.
On appeal in 2012, Siddiqui’s defense lawyers — some of whom were paid by the Pakistani government — argued their client had shot at the US officials in a panic and said the crime lacked any connection to terrorism.
The US appeals court upheld the conviction and said terrorism sentencing requirements were applicable because of her willingness to harm Americans.
The Foreign Office (FO) on Saturday said that incarcerated neuroscientist Dr Aafia Siddiqui had received “minor injuries” after being assaulted by a fellow inmate at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) in Carswell, US last month and was “doing fine”.
Siddiqui — a US citizen of Pakistani origin — was convicted by a US court on charges of shooting at US army and FBI officers while in custody in Afghanistan and was sentenced to 86 years imprisonment.
In a statement, FO spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said that authorities had learnt of the assault on Siddiqui by a fellow inmate on July 30.
“Our embassy in Washington, DC as well as our consulate general in Houston immediately took up the matter with the concerned US authorities,” he said.
“Our consul general in Houston visited Dr Siddiqui immediately to ascertain her well-being. She had received some minor injuries but was doing fine,” he added.
The FO spokesperson said that a formal complaint had been lodged with the relevant US authorities to investigate the matter and ensure her safety and well-being.
“Both the Pakistan embassy in Washington, DC and the consulate general in Houston continue making every effort to ensure that Dr Siddiqui is properly looked after during her incarceration at FMC Carswell,” he said.
On August 19, CAGE — an independent advocacy organisation working to empower communities impacted by the ‘war on terror’ — said that it had received disturbing reports from Siddiqui’s lawyers stating that she had been attacked in her cell by an inmate who had been harassing her for some time.
According to the statement, the inmate smashed a coffee mug filled with scalding hot liquid into her face.
“Shocked by the violent assault and in excruciating pain, Dr Siddiqui curled into a fetal position to protect herself. She was unable to get up after the assault and had to be taken out of the cell in a wheelchair,” the statement said.
Case against 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 her 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 Siddiqui, 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.
Siddiqui’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.
Siddiqui, 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.
Calling for support
Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui is calling for public support after suffering a serious violent assault by an inmate at FMC Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas.
On July 30, 2021, CAGE received disturbing reports from her lawyers that Aafia Siddiqui was attacked in her cell by an inmate who had been harassing her for some time, and who smashed a coffee mug filled with scalding hot liquid into her face.
Shocked by the violent assault and in excruciating pain, Dr Siddiqui curled into a fetal position to protect herself. She was unable to get up after the assault and had to be taken out of the cell in a wheelchair.
Dr. Siddiqui has been placed in administrative solitary confinement for an unspecified period of time.
Dr. Siddiqui – also known as the “grey lady of Bagram” was sentenced to 86 years imprisonment for attempted murder after a controversial trial in 2010, during which she accused witnesses of lying.
Her case has been plagued by inconsistencies, contradictory allegations and evidence gathered from torture, to the point that she has been called “the most wronged woman in the world”.
Her lawyer, Marwa Elbially, has been meeting in person with Dr. Siddiqui since January 2021 after several years of silence from her and the US authorities, during which the public and her family questioned whether she was still alive.
Dr. Aafia Siddiqui said: “The fact that I’m not blind is a miracle from Allah.”
Marwa Elbially of Elbially Law Office, PLLC told CAGE:
“During my last visit with Dr. Siddiqui I was shocked to see visible burns around her eyes, an approximately 3 inch scar near her left eye, a wound on her right cheek covered in toothpaste and a small piece of paper, and bruises on her right arm and legs. Moreover, she was in an orange jumpsuit as she had been placed in the administrative unit.
It is important that we receive reassurance that Dr. Siddiqui is not punished for being a victim of a vicious assault and is safe from future attacks.”
Yvonne Ridley, journalist who uncovered the story of Aafia Siddiqui, said:
“This is a serious case of injustice. The alleged crimes occurred in Afghanistan, the US had no jurisdiction to begin with. Aafia is the most wronged woman on the planet.”
Moazzam Begg, CAGE Outreach Director, said: “Aafia Siddiqui’s case remains one of the most troubling in the sordid history of the “War on Terror.” As events in Afghanistan – where so much of Aafia’s case began – unfurl with such speed, we need to ask if Pakistani authorities will seek her repatriation while she’s still alive, or only after she’s in a body bag.
“It is time this chapter of Aafia Siddiqui’s life was closed. She needs to go home and be with the children she never saw grow up.”