By Azhar Vadi Pics: Hamza Seedat Cii News
South Africans have been exposed to the ‘other side’ of the story regarding the US imprisoned Pakistani doctor, Aafia Siddiqui.
The MIT graduate’s sister, Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui is currently on her first tour outside of Pakistan to raise awareness about the plight of Aafia who was sentenced to 86 years in jail in the US for allegedly trying to shoot American servicemen in Afghanistan; a charge her supporters vehemently deny.
Dr. Fowzia was the guest of a South African based satellite radio broadcaster, Channel Islam International (Cii) and was scheduled to remain in the country until February 23. Accompanied by Mr. Altaaf Shakoor of the Pakistani human rights group, Pasban, she attended a fundraising dinner on Friday evening.
The attendees were left emotionally wrecked as Dr. Fowzia took them on descriptive journey detailing the circumstances around Aafia’s upbringing, kidnap, torture, rendition and subsequent trial.
“I have been thrilled by the reception I have received in South Africa,” she told the crowd of 1000 people who paid approximately 250 South African rands (Rs2500) each to attend the fundraising event. “The hugs and kisses have made this very personal for me.”
According Cii programme coordinator, Inayet Wadee, the monies collected will all go towards funding the legal battle to try and get Dr. Aafia freed from US incarceration.
“We all stand united in the face of injustice and we, as peace loving South Africans will contribute in the little way we can,” he said.
Dr. Fowzia brought the crowd to tears as she narrated a version of events regarding the story of Aafia, dispelling what she said were lies and false messages commonly found on internet forums.
“When Aafia went missing, we were lied to by Pakistani politicians…My mother was told that she must remain quiet otherwise she would have four dead bodies,” she said.
British human rights journalist, Yvonne Ridley, eventually discovered Aafia in 2008 at the Bagram Prison in Afghanistan, where reports indicate she underwent severe torture.
“When pressure built on the US and Afghans for the release of Aafia, she was eventually let out and found wondering in Ghazni town before being shot by US operatives. She was then rendered to the US, tried and sentenced brutally for a crime she didn’t commit.”
According to Dr. Fowzia, the judge in the case, Richard Berman, was compelled to issue the harsh sentence of 86 years upon Aafia, because she had exposed the violence and torture she was made to endure while in US custody.
“They made her strip naked and they forced her to walk over the Quraan. She would not be given her clothes back if she did not do it.”
Dr. Fowzia’s travel partner, Altaaf Shakoor, also had the opportunity to address the gathering. “Let the American consulate in South Africa take a message back to their leaders, that we will not stop making effort for the freedom of Aafia,” he said.
“Pakistan has so many sects and groupings, Sunnis, Shias, Pathaan, Punjabis, Barelwis and Deobandis, but we are all united about one thing. That is Aafia,” he added.
The tour of South Africa is expected to continue with more public engagements in the coming week as well as a special visit to the previously ‘blacks only’ community of Soweto which is recognised as the heart of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.