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PAKISTAN/USA: A lady doctor remains missing with her three children five years after her arrest

July 24, 2008

[NOTICE: The AHRC has developed this automatic letter-sending system using the "button" below. However, in this appeal, we could not include e-mail addresses of some of the Pakistan authorities. We encourage you to send your appeal letters via fax or post to those people. Fax numbers and postal addresses of the Pakistan authorities are attached below with this appeal. Thank you.]

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-167-2008

24 July 2008
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PAKISTAN/USA: A lady doctor remains missing with her three children five years after her arrest

ISSUES: Disappearance; rape; violence against women; torture; right to liberty and security; arbitrary arrest and detention
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that Dr. Afia Siddiqui, was arrested along with her three children by a Pakistani intelligence agency in early 2003 and has been missing since then. American and Pakistani intelligence agencies confirmed that she had been arrested in connection with Al-Qaeda, the terrorist organisation run by Osama Bin Laden. However, later both agencies denied that she had been arrested. Dr. Afia's whereabouts remain unknown but it is suspected that she is being held in an American detention centre.

CASE DETAILS:

Dr. Afia Siddiqui [Photo] left her mother's house in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Karachi, Sindh province, along with her three children, in a Metro-cab on March 30, 2003 to catch a flight for Rawalpindi, Punjab province, but never reached the airport. The press reports claimed that Dr. Afia had been picked-up by Pakistani intelligence agencies while on her way to the airport and initial reports suggested that she was handed over to the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). At the time of her arrest she was 30 years and the mother of three sons the oldest of which was four and the youngest only one month.

A few days later an American news channel, NBC, reported that Afia had been arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of facilitating money transfers for terror networks of Osama Bin Laden. The mother of the victim, Mrs. Ismat (who has since passed away) termed the NBC report absurd. She went on to say that Dr. Afia is a neurological scientist and has been living with her husband, Amjad, in the USA for several years.

On April 1, 2003, a small news item was published in an Urdu daily with reference to a press conference of the then Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat. When questioned with regard to Dr. Afia's arrest he denied that she had been arrested. This was followed by another Urdu daily article on April 2 regarding another press conference in which the same minister said Dr. Afia was connected to Al Qaeda and that she had not been arrested as she was absconding. He added: "You will be astonished to know about the activities of Dr. Afia" A Monthly English magazine of Karachi in a special coverage on Dr. Afia reported that one week after her disappearance, a plain clothed intelligence went to her mother's house and warned her, "We know that you are connected to higher-ups but do not make an issue out of your daughter's disappearance." According to the report the mother was threatened her with 'dire consequences' if she made a fuss.

Whilst Dr. Afia's whereabouts remain unknown, there are reports of a woman called 'Prisoner 650' is being detained in Afghanistan's Bagram prison and that she has been tortured to the point where she has lost her mind. Britain's Lord Nazeer Ahmed, (of the House of Lords), asked questions in the House about the condition of Prisoner 650 who, according to him is physically tortured and continuously raped by the officers at prison. Lord Nazeer has also submitted that Prisoner 650 has no separate toilet facilities and has to attend to her bathing and movements in full view of the other prisoners.

Also, on July 6, 2008 a British journalist, Yvonne Ridley, called for help for a Pakistani woman she believes has been held in isolation by the Americans in their Bagram detention centre in Afghanistan, for over four years. "I call her the 'grey lady' because she is almost a ghost, a spectre whose cries and screams continues to haunt those who heard her," Ms Ridley said at a press conference.

Ms Ridley, who went to Pakistan to appeal for help, said the case came to her attention when she read the book, The Enemy Combatant, by a former Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg. After being seized in February 2002 in Islamabad, Mr Begg was held in detention centres in Kandahar and Bagram for about a year before he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay. He recounted his experiences in the book after his release in 2005. Mr. Imran Khan, leader of Justice Party (T.I) suspects that prisoner 650 is the Dr. Afia Siddiqui and USA and Pakistani authorities are hiding facts of 'Prisoner 650'.

To date, neither the American nor the Pakistani government have come out about the arrest and detention of Dr. Afia in either Bagram or Guantanamo Bay where suspected terrorists are held. On December 30, 2003 Dr. Fawzia Siddiqui, Dr. Afia’s elder sister met with Mr Faisal Saleh Hayat at Islamabad with Mr Ejazul Haq, MNA, regarding the whereabouts of Dr. Afiai. Mr Faisal told Dr. Fawzia and Mr Ejazul Haq that according to his information Dr. Afia Siddiqui had already been released and that she (Dr. Fawzia) should go home and wait for a phone call from her sister.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Dr. Afia Siddiqui, who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, for about 10 years and did her PhD in genetics, returned to Pakistan in 2002. Having failed to get a suitable job, she again visited the US on a valid visa in February 2003 to search for a job and to submit an application to the US immigration authorities. She moved there freely and came back to Karachi by the end of February 2003 after renting a post office box in her name in Maryland for the receipt of her mail. It has been claimed by the FBI (Newsweek International, June 23, 2003, issue) that the box was hired for one Mr Majid Khan, an alleged member of Al Qaeda residing in Baltimore.

Throughout March 2003 flashes of the particulars of Dr. Afia were telecast with her photo on American TV channels and radios painting her as a dangerous Al Qaeda person needed by the FBI for interrogation. On learning of the FBI campaign against her she went underground in Karachi and remained so till her kidnapping. The June 23, 2003, issue of Newsweek International was exclusively devoted to Al Qaeda. The core of the issue was an article "Al Qaeda's Network in America". The article has three photographs of so-called Al Qaeda members - Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Dr. Afia Siddiqui and Ali S. Al Marri of Qatar who has studied in the US like Dr. Siddiqui and had long since returned to his homeland. In this article, which has been authored by eight journalists who had access to FBI records, the only charge leveled against Dr. Afia is that "she rented a post-office box to help a former resident of Baltimore named Majid Khan (alleged Al Qaeda suspect) to help establish his US identity.


SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write to the relevant authorities listed below and request them to investigate immediately. Dr. Afia’s whereabouts must be confirmed and the safety of her children assured. Regardless of whether Dr. Afia is Prisoner 650 or not the fact is that she has been missing, along with her children for five years. The governments of the USA and Pakistan at first confirmed her arrest and then denied it. Both governments have a duty to report any information they might have on the matter.

Please be informed that the AHRC has also written separate letter to the Special Rapporteurs on the Question of Torture, Violence against Women and the UN Working Groups on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and on arbitrary detention calling for their intervention in this case.

To support this appeal, please click here:

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear________,

PAKISTAN/USA: A lady doctor is missing with her three children since five years after her arrest

Name of victim: Ms. Dr. Afia Siddiqui and her three children
Block 7, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Karachi, Sindh province
The units of the alleged perpetrators: Intelligence agencies of Pakistan and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI-US)

I am shocked to know that Dr. Afia Siddiqui, a Pakistani citizen has been missing with her three children since April 2003, after her arrest by intelligence agencies of Pakistan. The whereabouts of children is also unknown, which is a serious act of negligence on the part of the government with regard to its responsibility to protect the citizen of the Pakistan.

According to the information I have received Dr. Afia was picked-up by Pakistani intelligence agencies while on her way to the airport and initial reports suggested that she was handed over to the American FBI. A few days later an American news channel, NBC, reported that Afia had been arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of facilitating money transfers for terror networks of Osama Bin Laden.

On April 1, 2003, a small news item was published in an Urdu daily with reference to a press conference of then Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat when, in reply to a question regarding the arrest of Dr. Siddiqui, he said she has not been arrested. But in another report the minister for interior said,"You will be astonished to know about the activities of Dr. Afia." A weekly English magazine in its special coverage on Dr. Afia reported that after one week of the incident, an intelligence agency official, a motor cyclist in plain clothes, came to the house of her mother and warned "We know that you are connected to higher-ups but do not make an issue out of her daughter's disappearance" and threatened her with dire consequences. After this development the whereabouts of Dr. Afia and her children are yet unknown.

What is also of grave concern to me is that when she was arrested by Pakistani intelligence authorities she was handed over to American intelligence agencies without being tried in Pakistan, I do not find any rationale in sending her along with her children to other country when there are Pakistani laws to deal with the suspected terrorists. It is known that President Musharraf handed over 600 suspected terrorists to America.

There are reports that in Afghanistan's prison of Bagram there is a woman prison known as Prisoner 650 and that she has been severely tortured. It is also widely suspected that Prisoner 650 is Dr. Afia Siddiqui. This prisoner has reportedly lost her mind due to constant rape and ill treatment.

I remind you that this is the duty of coalition government under Prime Minister Mr. Yousaf Raza Gillani to probe cases of those Pakistani suspected terrorists who have been handed over to foreign forces in the name of war on terror. The government should also inform Pakistani citizens about the whereabouts of Dr. Afia Siddiqui and her children. I also demand that government should also ensure the safety of her children.

Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND YOU LETTERS TO:

1. The Chief
Allied Joint Force Command
Head Quarters Brunssum,
Public Affirs office, P.O. BOX 270
6440, AG, Brunssem
THE NETHERLANDS
Tel. No.: +31 45 526 2409
Email: pio@jfcbs.nato.intHeadquart

2. Mr. George W. Bush
President of the United State of America (USA)
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW,
Washington, DC 20500
USA
Email: presidents@presidentsusa.net

3. Mr. Hamid Karzai
President of Afghanistan
Gul Khana Palace
Presidential Palace
Kabul
AFGHANISTAN
Email: president@afghanistangov.org

4. General Pervez Musharraf
President of Pakistan
President's Secretariat
Islamabad
PAKISTAN
Fax: +92 51 922 1422 / 4768; 920 1893 or 1835
E-mail: (please see: http://www.presidentofpakistan.gov.pk/WTPresidentMessage.aspx)

5. Mr. Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani
Prime Minister
Prime Minister House, Islamabad,
PAKISTAN
Fax: +92 51 922 1596
Tel: +92 51 920 6111
E-mail: webmaster@infopak.gov.pk or infominister@pak.gov.pk 

6. Mr. Farooq Naik
Minister of Law, Justice and Human Rights
S Block Pakistan Secretariat
Islamabad
PAKISTAN
Fax: +92 51 920 2628
E-mail: minister@molaw.gov.pk 

7. Mr. Rehman Malik
Advisor for Ministry of Interior
Room No. 404, 4th Floor, R Block,
Pak Secretariat
Islamabad
PAKISTAN
Fax: +92 51 920 2624
Tel: +92 51 921 2026
E-mail: minister@interior.gov.pk


Thank you

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrchk.org)

Document Type :
Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID :
AHRC-UAC-167-2008
Countries :
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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.