Going Beyond Aafia

by Sana Saleem on dawn

Beyond Aafia

For seven years now, Aafia Siddiqui’s case has remained shrouded in mystery, the ghost of Bargram has haunted Pakistan ever since. From her disappearance in Karachi to her arrest at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and throughout her trial, Siddiqui’s case has been most peculiar. On September 23, 2010 Siddiqui was sentenced to 86 years of imprisonment by a US Federal Court in New York, after being convicted of firing at US troops at Bagram during custody.

Over the years, Siddiqui’s case has been used by religious and political parties for point scoring and to gain public sympathy. Soon after the verdict, the Pakistan government said it would write a petition Washington to secure her repatriation on humanitarian grounds. It can not be denied that the charges appear dubious, keeping in mind that her alleged association with al Qaeda has been on the forefront, with a considerable number of media outlets dubbing her as “Lady al Qaeda” even before her trial began. It is then strange that she was tried in court for “firing at US soldiers” instead of her alleged links and contacts with the al Qaeda. Although this does make the accusations of her links to terrorist networks murky, but is not sufficient to prove her innocence. As expected, the sentence has caused uproar and anger in Pakistan, provoking protests from religious and political parties. Yet another protest has been planned for September 28 by one of the leading political parties in Karachi, the MQM. It is tragic that even secular parties like the MQM have hopped on to the bandwagon. Ironically, religious parties like Jamaat-i-Islami who have for years supported laws like the Hudood Ordinance, have now become the upholders of women’s rights.

That said and done, one can not deny that Siddiqui has possibly become emotionally unstable and, there have been rumours that Siddiqui was being kept in a secret prison.  Needless to say her story is that of tragedy, pain and agony.

However she is not alone. Hundreds of women in Pakistan face severe torture, abuse and are raped in police custody. In July 2008, a 17-year-old girl was abducted by police officials in Faisalabad, and kept in private custody for 16 days, where she was raped and tortured to confess her involvement in the murder of her fiance. But it did not end there; her elder sister was also brought into police custody in order to pressurize her younger sister to confess to the alleged crime. The details, according to the Asian Human Rights Report, are extremely disturbing and very graphic. While in police custody, she was twice raped by a sub inspector, however no action has been taken by the government to prosecute the sub inspector.

Several human rights organisations have reported incidents of people being tortured while in police custody, using methods such as “beating with batons and whips, burning with cigarettes, whipping soles of the feet, prolonged isolation, electric shock, denial of food or sleep ….”

While we raise our concerns of the torture and abuse in jails in the US, our silence on abuse in jails within our country is nothing short of hypocrisy. It is only fair that the government, political and religious parties and most importantly, the people raise their voice against injustices within our country just as much as we do against those committed abroad. Siddiqui’s case has received immense media attention, while thousands of stories of sexual abuse, rape and torture within our own country remain unheard. After all, the ghosts of our prisoners should haunt us just as much as the ghosts of Bargram, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib do.

Sana Saleem is a Features Editor at BEE magazine and blogs at Global Voices,  Asian Correspondent and her personal blog Mystified Justice. She recently won the Best Activist Blogger award by CIO & Google at the Pakistan Blogger Awards. She can be found on Facebook and tweets at twitter.com/sanasaleem.

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