On Friday, March 8 ("International Women's Day"), a press conference was held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, which focused attention on the cases of three women - Dr. Aafia Siddiqui and Attorney Lynne Stewart - two prominent female political prisoners being held at FMC Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas - and the late Rachel Corrie, an American peace activist killed by an Israeli soldier in the Gaza refugee camp in March 2003. The press conference was followed later in the day by a protest rally for Dr. Siddiqui at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, DC.
Dr. Aafia Siddiqui is a Pakistani national who came to the United States in 1990 and graduated from both MIT and Brandeis University with honors. Widely respected for her humanitarian relief work and commitment to her faith (Islam), Dr. Siddiqui became a person of suspicion after the tragedy of 9/11; a suspicion which ultimately resulted in Dr. Siddiqui and her three young children (two of whom area American born citizens) becoming targets of a rendition operation not long after she returned home to Karachi, Pakistan in 2002. (The exact date of their disappearance was March 30, 2003.)
Aafia is currently imprisoned at FMC Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, under conditions that violate the US Constitution's guarantee against "cruel and unusual punishment." The purpose of the demonstrations was to demand her release and repatriation - and until such time, that she receive the humane treatment that she is constitutionally entitled to, even as a prisoner of war of the U.S. government.
On March 29-30, the second part of the American branch of a global mobilization for Aafia Siddiqui, that marked 10 years of brutal and unwarranted imprisonment, unfolded in Fort Worth, Texas with two back-to-back demonstrations. Among the speakers was former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who attempted unsuccessfully to visit Aafia, but did receive a visit with another female political prisoner being held in the same institution, Attorney Lynne Stewart.
In addition to the United States of America, demonstrations were also held in such diverse places as London, South Africa, and throughout Aafia's home country of Pakistan.
The US initiatives were undertaken by a Coalition of Conscience comprising (in alphabetical order), the American Muslim Taskforce, the Coalition to Stop FBI Repression, Families United For Justice in America, the International Action Center, the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, the Pakistan-American Democratic Forum, Project SALAM, The Peace Thru Justice Foundation, and the United National Antiwar Coalition.
The impact of the mobilization was immediately felt. The mobilizations received favorable media coverage, and the Karachi-based sister of Aafia Siddiqui and leader of the international "Free Aafia Movement," Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui, released the following statement after the Fort Worth demonstrations:
"After ~3 months incommunicado, within days of your efforts We got 3 phone calls in 24 hours from Aafia. You All have just brightened the lives of an ailing mother, and two little children. And energized us all. Allah has blessed your efforts in [the] US, South Africa and Pakistan. May Allah keep you safe and bless you with the best of all you desire and more. Ameen."
Aafia's brother Muhammad, who resides with his family in the United States, also sent the following message:
"If you had any doubts whether your mobilization and Ramsey's request to look in on Aafia had any effect, we got the proof in the past 24 hours. Multiple calls from aafia and she even got to talk to her kids. This, after months of being held incommunicado. If there is a measure for success, for my mother and Aafia's children, this would be it."
With the March mobilizations now behind us, and Aafia's condition rapidly deteriorating, the US branch of the international movement is now planning an intensive drive to help establish local (independent) support committees in different parts of the US, and simultaneously engage in a far more intensive and organized public education campaign regarding her plight.
Toward this end we will be contacting Muslim convention organizers (i.e. ISNA, ICNA, MAS, etc.)with a request for inclusion in this year's programs, and we are also planning to organize a Dr. Aafia Siddiqui Day in Houston, Texas, for the latter part of September 2013, insha'Allah.
Time is of the essence; Aafia will not last another 10 years of unjust imprisonment in US custody. She must be released soon, or she will die soon.
Mauri Saalakhan is the founder of the Peace Thru Justice Foundation.