Aafia Siddiqui, a US educated Pakistani neuroscientist, was sentenced to 86 years in prison by a New York court in 2010. She was convicted of attempted murder after shooting at US soldiers and FBI agents in Afghanistan in 2008 as she tried to escape from custody.
Siddiqui – who was named as one of the FBI’s most wanted “terrorists” – claimed she had been abducted by US agents and held incommunicado in Afghanistan for five years.
Aafia’s case prompted international outrage, and divided legal opinion. Siddiqui’s family maintains her innocence, and in Pakistan, many see her conviction and imprisonment as an injustice. The case has drawn appeals from the Pakistani government for her release and repatriation to Pakistan.
Aafia Siddiqui’s sister, Fawzia, spoke to Al Jazeera about the recent legal statement issued by Aafia calling for the withdrawal of her appeal.
Al Jazeera: Why did your sister end her appeal?
Fowzia Siddiqui: To the best of my knowledge she did not end her appeal. My last conversation with her was very, very clear: ‘Go ahead with the case.’ She actually said that if we cannot get in touch or they do not let me talk to you regarding the case again, then […] you will act on my behalf. ‘Anything that comes out on my behalf, if I have not had the chance to talk to you then do not believe it.’ This conversation was in March (2014). It was during a legal call, listened to by her lawyers, in which I could listen in also, so that she could know the family consent was there.
Al Jazeera: With the appeal process running why didn’t you speak to her after this?
Siddiqui: We tried […] but they would not let us talk to Aafia. They would not even let her receive legal mail. And then suddenly, out of the blue, the judge, who was the same judge who sentenced her to 86 years, the same judge who had [then] asked ‘Where’s your Allah now?’ It’s the same judge who used a force order on Aafia to appear in court, [presented a withdrawal] statement.
Al Jazeera: The Federal Court had issued an order to use reasonable force to ensure her safe appearance in court. Why was the order issued?
Siddiqui: So that she would come to court. She refused to come because the [prison guards] would strip-search her and desecrate the Quran, forcing her to walk on it. If she would [refuse] they would beat her up. Aafia said that in court on July 7, 2009.
Al Jazeera: How much contact have you had with your sister since her conviction in 2010?
Siddiqui: We have not been allowed [in-person contact] with her at any time. There is a prison rule that she gets to speak to family for 300 minutes per month – as long as the family pays for the call. We did get that order, and the only time that was implemented was when there were worldwide demonstrations – at those times there were calls. But since filing the appeal they have kept Aafia completely incommunicado.
Al Jazeera: Carswell Medical Facility has been criticised for its treatment of inmates. What do you know of the rights and treatment of your sister at Forth Worth?
Siddiqui: I fear I have reason to believe that she has been tortured. That it [the appeal withdrawal statement] was made under duress. She is under strict solitary confinement. I am convinced that coercion techniques have been used to ensure the withdrawal of her appeal. Families of [Carswell] abuse victims have contacted us. They are hurting, we are hurting.
Aafia is a political prisoner and her release [will come from] the court of public opinion. I would ask all our supporters to have faith in God. In a couple of days we will announce the next strategy regarding the case.