FO expresses helplessness over Aafia’s repatriation

Published: November 7, 2010

Siddiqui is now in an awkward situation after she refused to appeal against the sentence. Photo: Express

ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office (FO) sees very little possibility of Pakistani neuroscientist Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s repatriation through any bilateral treaty or a presidential pardon.

Siddiqui, who was recently sentenced to 86 years in prison by a US judge, has put the government of Pakistan in an awkward position after she refused to avail the option of appealing against the sentence.

According to a confidential letter that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs submitted to a parliamentary committee last week, Siddiqui had written a letter to Judge Richard Berman on October 15, ‘reiterating’ her decision to fire the team engaged by the Government of Pakistan to defend her case. She also wrote that no one had the right to appeal against the sentence on her behalf in any court of law. According to the FO, by writing such a letter, she had lost her right to appeal against the sentence.

Siddiqui was handed down the sentence on September 23, following which the government has been under intense pressure to secure her release. While she was under trial in New York, the Pakistani government had engaged a team of lawyers comprising Dawn Cardi, Chat Edgar, Charles Swift, Lindia Moreno and Elaine Sharp to defend her case.

The same team was tasked to file an appeal against the sentence.

According to US law, a person sentenced under the federal law can only be repatriated or transferred to their country of origin if that country is a signatory to a prisoner transfer treaty that has also been signed by the US.

According to the FO, the US is a signatory to two multilateral prisoner transfer treaties – the Council of Europe (COE) Convention and the Inter-American Convention on Serving Criminal Sentences Abroad. Pakistan, on the other hand, is not a signatory to either of the two nor is there any bilateral treaty between Pakistan and the US.

The last option that the government has is to apply for a presidential pardon but the FO is not hopeful that the option would work in Siddiqui’s case.

The FO says pardon applications go through the Office of Pardon in the Justice Department, which makes recommendations to the US president. The US Constitution gives the president absolute discretion in awarding pardon or commuting a sentence, but it isn’t usually awarded in cases where the defendant does not admit responsibility or expresses remorse.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 7th, 2010.

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