Release or Home Confinement for Dr. Aafia Siddiqui from Coronavirus Infected Prison

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Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist, is serving an 86-year term at FMC Carswell. Carswell is a prison-cum-medical facility for female prisoners in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas. Other than Seagoville Prison, which is also located in Dallas-Fort Worth and has 1,359 cases, Carswell has the largest COVID-19 outbreak of any U.S. prison. According to the Bureau of Prisons own website, the number of reported cases there is 542. (Other sources place it even higher, at 571.) Carswell’s inmate population totals 1,357. That translates to an infection rate of 40% at the facility. Three female prisoners, Andrea Circle Bear, Sandra Kincaid, and Teresa Ely, have died from the virus at the facility. The deceased women were 30, 69, and 51-years of age, respectively. The 48-year old Dr. Siddiqui has been imprisoned since she was 31. She has been in very poor health for much of this time, including appearing in a wheel chair at her New York trial, due to the extremely harsh--some would say unlawful-- conditions of her capture as well as her incarceration. She is clearly at grave risk from COVID-19.

According to the Appeal, a project of the Justice Collaborative, at Carswell, "there's no air conditioning; incarcerated women are confined to their cells; the commissary is closed indefinitely, so women are running out of basic hygiene products like soap and shampoo; the warden was nowhere to be found; women weren't getting necessary medical care; inedible meals arrived in brown sacks." The facility is also sorely lacking in cleaning supplies and PPE.

(Much of the information on conditions at Carswell originates with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a local news outlet in the area, with no political agenda. The paper has been reporting on the situation there since April. The reports were later picked up by the local NBC affiliate, Time Magazine, and Newsweek.)

The bottom line is that Dr. Siddiqui, an MIT and Brandeis graduate, with no prior record of violence, has a greater than 40% chance of contracting the deadly Coronavirus while in U.S. custody. She is already in very poor physical, as well as mental health, having been denied timely medical treatment from a gunshot wound when she was captured in Afghanistan. The torture she endured while in captivity in Pakistan and Afghanistan exacerbated her physical condition. The death of her baby, Sulaiman, in the course of her arrest, and the imprisonment of her other two children, Ahmad and Mariam, along with her (they were each separately released years later), added to her grave mental trauma. 

Not one person was killed or injured in connection with the charges for which Dr. Siddiqui was convicted. And she was convicted in New York District Court, on the basis of ambiguous and highly contradictory testimony, due largely to the climate of fear and Islamophobia which existed at the time. Upon her conviction, she called for her supporters to stay calm, and to refrain from violence. She has continued to maintain her innocence throughout her 17-years of captivity.

Her sister, Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui, a Pakistan-based physician who holds a degree from Harvard University, has long spearheaded a national campaign in Pakistan, calling for her release. In Pakistan, the broad masses of people believe Dr. Siddiqui to be innocent, and the prevailing view is one of disbelief that the U.S., which touts itself as a supporter of women's rights, has accorded torture, solitary confinement, and now (the prospect of) COVID-19 to this Pakistani woman neuroscientist.

Supporters from the Aafia Foundation and other groups hold annual rallies outside FMC Carswell calling for her release. Human rights advocates in London, Durban, New York, Boston, and other cities worldwide regularly march calling for Dr. Siddiqui's release.

Countries like China and Russia are often associated with the jailing of scientists. The U.S. need not join their ranks. Dr. Siddiqui's release on humanitarian grounds from a COVID-infected prison would open the door to improved U.S.-Pakistan relations.

Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, is neither a threat to public welfare, nor a flight risk. She has suffered enough. We ask that she be released to home confinement with her brother in Texas; or, that she be repatriated to Pakistan, where her elderly mother and her children have long awaited her. As COVID-19 ravages Texas prisons, particularly Carswell, Dr. Siddiqui’s life may depend upon it.

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