NEW YORK: A New York-based human rights group has condemned as “unfair and unjust” the heavy 86-year prison sentence handed down to Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistan neuroscientist, saying she had never caused harm to anyone.“This sentence is not only unjust because of its harshness to Dr. Siddiqui – but also because of its impact on her two small children in Pakistan who may never see their mother again,” the International Justice Network, attorneys for Siddiqui’s family, said in a statement after Thursday’s tough sentence imposed US District Judge Richard Berman.
“While today’s sentence concludes a shameful chapter in American history, it is only a matter of time before the truth about what has been done to Dr. Siddiqui, her family, and the thousands of other innocents who have been disappeared is revealed.
Importantly, despite today’s sentence and all the injustices which she has endured, Dr. Siddiqui has consistently made clear that she does not support any acts of violence being taken in her name,” the statement added.
“The International Justice Network stands in solidarity with the international community in condemning this unfair and unjust result in Dr. Siddiqui’s case.” “This case is not over. This is just the beginning,” Tina Foster of the International Justice Network told reporters, adding that the real importance of the case, her group believes, is that it draws attention to thousands of disappearances in Pakistan.
In February, a jury found her guilty on seven counts, including attempted murder, but determined that Siddiqui acted without premeditation. But in a four-hour sentencing session, Judge Berman repeatedly termed her acts premeditated. Her defence lawyers argued for a minimum sentence of 12 years, saying that Siddiqui is severely mentally ill.
Berman rejected that argument. He said he increased the sentence because of several factors, including terrorist intent and motivation to commit a hate crime.
In doing dso, he gave her the maximum sentence. But Siddiqui, who wore a white scarf, took it calmly, saying she is innocent. After the hearing, Siddiqui’s lawyers said they plan to appeal the verdict. Defence attorney Charles Swift said that government authorities never made available to them the U.S. military reports on the incident.
He said the report, which was declassified by the government after it was published this year on the WikiLeaks website, does not mention Siddiqui as having fired the gun. It said only that she pointed a weapon.
He said he believes there was a further in-depth investigation of the incident by the military that has also been withheld from the defense. “I think there’s real concern over the government’s obligation to turn over exculpatory evidence,” he told reporters.
“And I don’t blame the prosecution in this case. What I’ve found in national security cases like this is they have as big a battle trying to get evidence as anyone does. But the United States, to do justice, has to do it credibly and has to produce all the documents. And that’s one of three or four huge ongoing appellate issues.”
Siddiqui was allowed to speak at length at the hearing. In an emotional rush of sentences, she denied that she was mentally ill and repeatedly invoked the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) in urging Muslims not to respond to her sentence with violence.
“I am asking all the Muslims: Don’t do an act of violence,” she said in court. If you want to do anything for me, educate them about Islam,” she said, saying it is a religion of peace that has made her happy and content, even in prison.
Her voice broke when she referred to her claim that she had been kidnapped with her children in Pakistan in 2003 and kept in a secret prison for many years. When she was arrested in Ghazni, her oldest son, then 12, was with her. Her daughter has since been found, but her youngest child, who would be about seven years old now, has not. “I don’t know what happened to my baby,” she said. (APP)