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April 25, 2020

Pakistan regularly taking updates on well-being of Dr Aafia in US prison, SHC told

Pakistan’s consul general in Houston, USA has been in touch with the prison authorities to seek an update on the well-being of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, who is incarcerated in a Texas prison, the ministry of foreign affairs told the Sindh High Court on Friday.

Filing comments on a petition seeking direction to the federal government for contacting the US authorities to provide proof of the well-being and the health report of detained Pakistani Dr Aafia in a US prison, the ministry of foreign affairs submitted that according to the reports sent by the prison authorities to Pakistan’s consul general in Houston, Dr Aafia is in good health.

Dr Aafia, who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, and did her PhD in genetics, was prosecuted in the US for allegedly attacking US soldiers in Afghanistan and convicted by a US court for 86 years in prison in September 2010.

Petitioner Dr Fouzia submitted in the petition that Dr Afia, a resident of Karachi, along with her three children, was allegedly kidnapped from Gulshan-e-Iqbal in March 2003 when she was leaving for Rawalpindi from her mother’s house. She submitted that detainees were handed over to the US agencies by Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies in violation of the constitution.

She has requested the court to direct the government to discharge their lawful duty assigned to them by the constitution and international charters and treaties by contacting the US government to provide proof of her well-being by a live video call with family and submit a health report of her which is her fundamental right.

The ministry of foreign affairs’ director-general (America) submitted that visits for the consular access to Dr Aafia had been suspended by the prison authorities due to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, the Pakistan consul general in Huston had been instructed to adopt all means of communication with the prison authorities to seek an update on the wellbeing of Dr Aafia on a daily basis. He submitted that this exercise was being done through visual/telephonic conversations and the petitioner’s mother was being updated regularly.

Regarding allegations of maltreatment and abuse by US prison staff, the ministry of foreign affairs submitted that such allegations were also communicated to the US government through diplomatic channels which were investigated by the US authorities and at one instance a local prison staff was also changed by the US authorities. He said that as the best available legal resort, a mercy petition duly signed by Dr Aafia for consideration by the president had also been submitted in March 2020 to the warden of the FMC Carswell prison authority in Texas for onward transmission to the US Department of Justice. He submitted that during last four weeks, the consul general had spoken at least half a dozen times to mother of Dr Aafia Siddiqui who lives with her sister and she was also updated by the consul general himself.

The SHC’s division bench, headed by Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar, after taking the comments filed by the ministry of foreign affairs on record directed the federal law officer to provide copies of the reply to the petitioner’s counsel and adjourned the hearing till May 5.

Petitioner counsel Irfan Aziz had earlier told the court that Dr Aafia was incarcerated at the FMC Carswell Fort Worth, Texas, USA and earlier she was allowed to talk to her family members via telephonic calls on the payment of a fee but for the last three years she was not allowed to talk to her family members.

He said there were reports in the US media with regard to the coronavirus outbreak in US prisons and expressed fear about the life of the detainee. He submitted that the petitioner had communicated to the secretary foreign affairs about the lack of personal contact with Dr Aafia for the last three years.

He said the petitioner also referred to the Carswell prison manual in which the prisoners were allowed 300 minutes on phone calls as well as video calls and four-hour visits per week, but Dr Aafia had been denied all these rights.

The counsel further argued that due to the pandemic, various prisoners of different countries had been released by the US government, therefore, he requested the court to issue a notice to the ministry of foreign affairs to come up with reply as to what efforts were made by them for the release of different prisoners from different prisons out of Pakistan.

He also requested that the federal government and the ministry of foreign affairs may be directed to make some arrangements for telephonic calls of Dr Aafia with her family members and also demanded her health report through the US authorities.

The SHC in May 2013 had disposed of the petition with a direction to the federal government, including the ministry of foreign affairs, to explore ways and make efforts towards bilateral agreements as envisaged in the ordinance and in the light of two conventions between Pakistan and US within a reasonable time.

The foreign officer for America had submitted that the Council of Europe Convention had declined the government’s request without giving any reasons in April 2014 in order to keep the confidentiality of the member states. However, the ministry of interior and the ministry of law had been approached to give views on a possible access of Pakistan to the Organisation of American States, an inter-American convention on serving of criminal sentences abroad, whose reply is still awaited.