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'Lady Al Qaeda': Pakistan reacts to Aafia Siddiqui conviction in US court

A New York court's conviction of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui for the attempted murder of US soldiers in Afghanistan has stirred anti-American anger in Pakistan.

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Shamim on Thursday organized a protest that drew hundreds of women who called for Siddiqui’s release and decried US involvement in Pakistani affairs. “We can no longer sit quietly; every mother and sister will fight for justice against America,” she said.

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Protests against Siddiqui’s alleged ill-treatment while in detention have been ongoing during her trial. Those who believe the trial has been politicized from the start saw Thursday’s public reaction as inevitable.

“Siddiqui’s family has been saying that this verdict was expected, implying that the US cannot be fair,” says Sana Saleem, a Karachi-based political blogger. “Aafia herself has been playing the political and religious card during her trial.”

On being convicted, Siddiqui claimed the verdict was prompted by Israel.

Public face of 'missing persons'

But there is also a local dimension to the widespread protests. In recent years, human rights groups have accused Pakistani intelligence agencies of illegally detaining terror suspects. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 242 people remained missing in 2009. Siddiqui had become the public face of Pakistan’s "missing persons" after she vanished from Karachi with her three children.

“We are protesting the verdict, and we are protesting against our government,” says Ali Abbas Zaidi, the chair of the Pakistan Youth Alliance, an activist group that participated in a civil society protest against the verdict in Islamabad’s Blue Area. He argues that Siddiqui’s case must be seen in a “broader perspective.”

“How can we criticize the US when our own government has been complicit in illegally detaining innocents?” asks Zaidi. According to Defence of Human Rights, an independent organization advocating for the release of all missing persons, more than 100 Pakistani women remain in illegal detention.

Siddiqui’s conviction is expected to put pressure on President Asif Ali Zardari’s government, which is already perceived locally as an American proxy. “The government needs to handle this issue with circumspection,” says Dr. Hussain, who suggested that Pakistan appeal the verdict. The Pakistani embassy in Washington has already expressed "dismay" at Siddiqui's conviction.

“It’ll be a balancing act for the government,” says blogger Saleem. “We have to respect judicial systems no matter what, even if they go against our expectations.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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