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May 22, 2020

SHC directs Centre to submit progress report about well being of Dr Aafia in US prison

Karachi

May 22, 2020

The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Thursday directed a federal law officer to submit a progress report with regard to the well-being and health of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman incarcerated in a prison in Texas, United States (US).

During the hearing of a petition seeking direction to the federal government for contacting the US authorities to provide the proof of well-being of Dr Aafia, the high court was informed by the ministry of foreign affairs that the consul general in US had planned a visit to the prison to meet Dr Aafia but the meeting was cancelled due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

The petitioner, Dr Fouzia Siddiqui, informed the SHC about an email received from Dr Aafia’s attorney Kathy Manley, which stated that a mercy petition had been filed with the warden of Carswell prison and the same was to be submitted to the pardon attorney in Washington.

Dr Fouzia submitted that she had a copy of the mercy petition duly signed by Dr Aafia and complained that though the government of Pakistan had made some efforts for her release but it did not take her family members on board.

The federal law officer submitted that the consul general in Houston had requested the prison authorities for consular access to Dr Aafia as soon as possible.

A division bench of the SHC headed by Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar observed that as per the ministry of foreign affairs’ comments, the Pakistani consul general in Houston had been in touch with the prison authorities to seek update on the well-being of Dr Aafia and according to the reports sent by the prison authorities to the consul general, she was in good health.

The federal law officer submitted that the foreign ministry officials in US would continue to take updates with regard to the well-being and health of Dr Aafia from the prison authorities.

The high court directed the federal law officer to submit a progress report with regard to the well-being of Dr Aafia and adjourned the hearing till June 10.

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.

The petitioner submitted in the petition that Dr Aafia, 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. Dr Fouzia submitted that the detainees were handed over to the US agencies by Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies in violation of the Constitution.

She requested the SHC to direct the government to discharge their lawful duty assigned to them by the Constitution and international charters and treaties and contact the US government to provide proof of the well-being of Dr Aafia by arranging a live video call of her with her family and submit the health report of Dr Aafia, which was her fundamental right.

Counsel for the petitioner Irfan Aziz had earlier told the high court that Dr Aafia was incarcerated in FMC CARSWELL Fort Worth, Texas and earlier she was allowed to talk to her family members through telephonic calls against the payment of some fee but for the last three years, she had not been allowed to talk to her family members. He submitted that there were reports in the US media with regard to the outbreak of coronavirus in US prisons, and expressed fear about the life of the detainee.

The SHC in May 2013 had disposed of a petition with direction to the federal government, including the ministry of foreign affairs, to explore way and means and make efforts towards a bilateral agreement for her release.

A 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 ministry of law and justice had been approached to give views on possible accession of Pakistan to the Organization of American States, a inter-American convention on serving of criminal sentences abroad, whose reply was still awaited.