Ailing Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui ‘raped’ inside US prison, lawyer says

Supporters of US-detained Pakistani woman Aafia Siddiqui carry flags and placards with her portrait during an anti-US demonstration in Karachi on March 28, 2010. (AFP/File)
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Updated 05 December 2023

Ailing Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui ‘raped’ inside US prison, lawyer says

  • Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a 49-year-old mother of three, is serving an 86-year sentence at a US federal prison
  • Her lawyer says she has been abused 'countless times' by guards and prisoners at US detention facility

ISLAMABAD: Ailing Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, who has been jailed in the United States (US) after being convicted of attacking US troops in Afghanistan, has been "raped" inside a US prison, her lawyer said on Tuesday.

Siddiqui, a 49-year-old mother of three, is currently serving an 86-year sentence at the Federal Medical Center (FMC) in Carswell, Texas after a New York court convicted her in 2010 of attempting to shoot and kill a group of US soldiers and FBI agents in Afghanistan who wanted to interrogate her for alleged links to Al-Qaeda.  

Her sentencing by a US court has riled many in Pakistan, including former and current Pakistani governments that had campaigned for her release and paid for her legal defense.  

Siddiqui's lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, on Tuesday made shocking disclosures about mistreatment of Siddiqui, a day after his meeting with the Pakistani scientist at FMC Carswell. 

"She has been raped in FMC Carswell, no question about it," Smith, a US-based human rights lawyer who is representing Siddiqui, said in an interview to a Pakistani broadcaster. 

"Well, I mean, at least two times is a formal thing by guards, but in terms of abuse by the guards and prisoners, countless times." 

As an American, Smith said, he was "ashamed of" what the US prison system had done to Siddiqui. 

"I have filed a report on her abuse and what they have been doing to her is pretty unspeakable in terms of the sexual mistreatment," he said. "She has told me in great detail about how she has been abused." 

Smith said Siddiqui's complaints were all "extreme" and "true," and that she had been meted out the "harshest" treatment by the US prison authorities. 

"There are 10,250 women in the [US] federal prison system," the lawyer said. "The woman who has been treated the harshest of all those 10,250 is Aafia Siddiqui." 

Siddiqui, who is reportedly ailing, earned advanced degrees from Brandeis University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before she was sentenced for assaulting US soldiers after being detained in Afghanistan two years earlier.  

Her punishment sparked outrage in Pakistan among political leaders and her supporters, who viewed her as a victim of the US criminal justice system.  

In the years since, Pakistani officials have publicly expressed interest in any sort of deal or swap that could result in her release from US custody, and her case has continued to draw attention from supporters.  

The government of Nawaz Sharif, three-time former prime minister of Pakistan, as well as the outgoing Pakistani administration of his younger brother, Shehbaz Sharif, have made efforts for Siddiqui’s release during their tenure.  

In March this year, the younger Sharif instructed Pakistan’s foreign ministry to remain engaged with the US government and the country’s mission in Washington for the release of jailed Pakistani neuroscientist, following his meeting with Siddiqui's sister, Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui. 

Smith said he had apprised the Pakistani government of Siddiqui's abuse and was certainly going to let Pakistani authorities know of the "gruesome details." 

He, however, said it was the duty of the Pakistani government to protect her from the abuse. 

"That's her government, it is their duty to protect her," he said. "I will do what I can, I am an American, I apologize for what has happened to her. But it is actually, ultimately the job of the government in Pakistan." 

US urges new Pakistan government to prioritize economy, continue working with IMF on reforms 

Updated 10 sec ago

US urges new Pakistan government to prioritize economy, continue working with IMF on reforms 

  • The US says it supports Pakistan’s efforts to break free from the vicious cycle of debt and international financing
  • Analysts believe government will have to negotiate another IMF loan program amid continuing economic challenges

ISLAMABAD: The United States said on Wednesday Pakistan’s new government should address the economic situation facing the country on priority, emphasizing it was important for the emerging administration in Islamabad to continue engagements with international financial institutions.

Pakistan is holding the first National Assembly today, Thursday, in which the newly elected lawmakers will take oath. The country’s new government is expected to take the reins of power within the next few days after the in-house election of the next prime minister.

The issue of Pakistan’s economy came up for discussion during a regular State Department briefing after a journalist asked about a letter written by former premier Imran Khan’s party to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), asking it to link the next loan facility to “good governance” in the country.

“I’ll just say with respect to the IMF that we support Pakistan’s efforts to break free from the vicious cycle of debt and international financing,” Spokesperson Matthew Miller said. “The long-term health of Pakistan’s government – or economy is crucial to its stability.”

“Pakistan’s new government must immediately prioritize the economic situation because the policies over the next several months will be crucial to maintaining economic stability for Pakistanis,” he added. “And we urge Pakistan to continue working with the IMF and other international financial institutions toward macroeconomic reforms.”

Pakistan has been facing significant financial challenges in recent years, with dwindling foreign exchange reserves and declining value of its national currency.

The country’s caretaker administration negotiated a $3 billion, short-term loan facility with the IMF that is scheduled to expire in March.

Pakistan’s economic challenges persist, prompting many analysts to point out it will continue to need external financing from the international lending agency.

Pakistan’s National Assembly to hold inaugural session today, following president’s late summon

Updated 29 min 34 sec ago

Pakistan’s National Assembly to hold inaugural session today, following president’s late summon

  • Arif Alvi once again pointed out the incomplete allocation of reserved seats in the lower house while calling the session
  • The president also took exception to the PM’s accusation of being in violating of constitution for not summoning the session

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly of Pakistan is set for its first meeting today, Thursday, following the general elections held earlier this month, after President Arif Alvi belatedly summoned its inaugural session late last night.

Alvi had previously objected to a request by the caretaker administration to call the session for the oath-taking of newly elected lawmakers on Feb. 29, indicating that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had not allocated all the reserved seats in the house, which he deemed currently incomplete.

His position was viewed as untenable by various politicians who pointed to the constitutional provision requiring the assembly session to be convened no later than 21 days after the national polls, which in this case fell on Feb. 29.

The constitutional requirement, enshrined in Article 91 (2), was widely interpreted to mean that the assembly’s session would be held automatically, even without the president’s decision to summon it, prompting the speaker of the outgoing assembly to call its first meeting.

“Subject to some reservations, President Dr. Arif Alvi has summoned to convene the National Assembly on 29th February in exercise of the powers conferred by Article 54(1) of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan,” his office informed in a social media post in the early hours of the day.

“The President accorded his approval while keeping in view the mandate and implications of the timeline given in Article 91 (2) and subject to some reservations and expecting the resolution of the issue of the reserved seats before the 21st day,” it added.

Alvi also objected to the language of a summary sent to him by Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, saying it was “sad that the Chief Executive of the country addresses the Head of the State in the first form and resorts to unacceptable language and allegations without any substance.”

He particularly mentioned the accusation of constitutional violation attributed to him in the summary for not summoning the session, pointing out that he did not want to engage with it.

The president said he could not be oblivious to “some incongruities in the electoral process and the process of formation of the Government.”

“He further remarked that it was needless to remind that a Caretaker Prime Minister/set up was merely responsible to ensure conducive conditions for the peaceful, fair and transparent holding of the General elections, within the framework of the Constitution and the timeline on which many quarters had expressed reservations,” his office said in the social post.

It is pertinent to mention that there are 60 reserved seats for women and 10 for religious minorities in the 336-member National Assembly. So far, the ECP has only allocated 40 of them to various political parties.

The commission is not yet to decide if it wants the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), which includes independent candidates supported by former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, to get a share of reserved seats in the lower house of parliament.

The PTI-backed candidates won over 90 seats and emerged as the single largest bloc in the assembly.

However, they could not form their own government without joining a political party or lay claimed to the reserved seats that are distributed among different parliamentary factions on the basis of their representation in the house.

Alvi, who contested the 2018 elections on the PTI ticket and is considered Khan’s close aide, has also raised objection over the incomplete allocation of reserved seats.

The National Assembly’s inaugural session will scheduled to begin at 10am.

Two Pakistanis charged over calls for Dutch far-right leader’s killing

Updated 29 February 2024

Two Pakistanis charged over calls for Dutch far-right leader’s killing

  • The Netherlands and Pakistan do not have an extradition treaty, leaving prospects for a trial unclear
  • A Dutch court says the Pakistanis were suspected of publicly calling on people to kill Geert Wilders

AMSTERDAM: A Dutch court said it had charged two Pakistani nationals on Wednesday over public calls for the murder of far-right anti-Muslim leader Geert Wilders, who aims to lead a new government after his party won elections in November.

In a statement on Wednesday, the court said prosecutors had asked authorities in Pakistan to extradite the two suspects – aged 55 and 29 – to stand trial in the Netherlands.

It said the two Pakistanis were suspected of publicly calling on people to kill Wilders and promising them a reward in the afterlife if they did so. It did not say how those calls were made.

In September, a Dutch court sentenced a Pakistani former cricketer to 12 years in prison after he was tried in absentia for publicly urging people to kill Wilders.

“I hope they (two suspects) will be extradited, convicted and jailed!” Wilders wrote in a post on X.

The court scheduled its first hearing on the case for Sept. 2. The Netherlands and Pakistan do not have an extradition treaty, leaving prospects for a trial unclear.

Finance minister says China rolls over $2 billion loan to Pakistan

Updated 29 February 2024

Finance minister says China rolls over $2 billion loan to Pakistan

  • The loan was due in March and has been extended by the Chinese authorities for one year
  • Securing external financing is one of the most urgent issues facing Pakistan’s next government

ISLAMABAD: China has rolled over a $2 billion loan to Pakistan, caretaker finance minister Shamshad Akhtar confirmed in a response to Reuters on Thursday.

The $2 billion loan was due in March and has been extended for one year, Geo News which first reported the news said, citing sources in the Pakistan finance ministry. Beijing had communicated the decision to Islamabad, it added.

Pakistan’s cash-strapped economy is struggling to stabilize from a financial crisis and secured a $3 billion standby arrangement from the International Monetary Fund last summer.

Pakistan’s vulnerable external position means that securing financing from multilateral and bilateral partners will be one of the most urgent issues facing the next government, ratings agency Fitch said last week.

Pakistan’s top business body says Saudi investors want Pakistani businesspersons to establish industries in Kingdom

Updated 29 February 2024

Pakistan’s top business body says Saudi investors want Pakistani businesspersons to establish industries in Kingdom

  • A delegation led by Pakistan’s commerce minister met Saudi officials, investors in Kingdom last week to discuss business opportunities
  • Top official of Pakistan’s leading business forum says Saudi investors expressed “great interest” in Pakistan’s five key economic sectors

KARACHI: Saudi investors offered land and equity to Pakistani businesspersons to set up export-oriented industries in the Kingdom, a top official of the South Asian country’s apex business forum who was part of a prominent business delegation that went to Saudi Arabia last week, said on Wednesday. 

A delegation of 20 Pakistani industrialists last week visited Saudi Arabia with Caretaker Commerce Minister Dr. Gohar Ejaz. The delegation held meetings with Saudi officials and trade representatives to promote bilateral trade and industrial cooperation in various sectors.

Pakistan constituted the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), a hybrid civil-military forum, in June 2023 to fast-track decision-making and promote investment from foreign nations, particularly Gulf states. The SIFC has identified five key sectors for investment, which include agriculture and livestock, IT and Telecom, mines and minerals, energy, and industry, among others. 

Atif Ikram, president of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FPCCI) said the delegation’s visit to the Kingdom was a “very productive one” as Saudi investors had taken “great interest” in investing in five key sectors identified by the SIFC. 

“The Saudi investors were more interested in Pakistan’s agriculture to ensure future food security,” Ikram told Arab News, adding that they offered Pakistani businesspersons land and equity to set up industries in the Kingdom. 

“The Saudis are also welcoming Pakistani businessmen to set up export-oriented industries in the Kingdom,” Ikram said. “They are very much focusing on industrialization.”

With 9.1 million hectares of land available for agriculture and 22.4 million hectares for livestock, Pakistan is set to transform its agriculture landscape by transitioning from the traditional micro-farming culture to high-tech, high-yield and low-cost community-based Modernized Corporate Farming, the SIFC has said. 

The FPCCI official said Pakistani businessperson see Saudi Arabia as a significant market for investment and are prepared to play a larger role in the mutual growth of industries and economies in the two nations.

“Saudis are open for every industry that produces exportable goods be it textile, steel or any other product that could be exported from the Kingdom,” Ikram noted.

Arif Habib, founder and chairman of the Arif Habib Group— a leading Pakistani conglomerate in the services, real estate, and manufacturing sectors— ​said Saudi officials also expressed interest in establishing a cricket stadium in the Kingdom.

He said the group offered to develop the stadium as it has constructed one in Karachi’s Naya Nazimabad area.

“The Saudis were excited about the cricket facility because they think that it would interest Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans living in the Kingdom and it would also help in creating interest for cricket among Saudis,” Habib explained. He added that the Saudi officials also expressed interest in setting up football clubs, gyms, and family clubs.

Habib said the visit was a “good start” but cautioned that Pakistan needed a strong follow-up with Saudi authorities to avail investment opportunities in both countries. 

“Future outcome depends on how strongly the Pakistani sides follows, how they effectively share our economic research and future direction,” he said. “What we can offer to them and similarly what opportunities are available in the Kingdom.”