Photograph exhibition narrates ordeal of prisoners, families
ISLAMABAD: Qari Mohammad Saad Iqbal Madni had been subjected to severe torture in Egypt for 92 days. He was locked up in an underground cell the size of a grave and repeatedly tormented after local authorities picked him up in 2003 from Indonesia where he was visiting his stepmother.
Later, he was shifted to Bagram (a US airbase in Afghanistan) and was detained for a year before being sent to Guantanamo for another six years, where he almost died.
But even after his release four years ago, he still feels he is in a prison worse than Bagram and Guantanamo as he cannot move in Pakistan without informing security agencies about every step he takes. He said,
Personnel from the Pakistani security agencies knocked on my door just two days ago. They asked me what I was up to, noted my attendance, and took my signatures and thumb impressions to make sure I was at my hometown in Lahore.
He was the last of 66 Pakistani prisoners released in 2009 from the American-run Guantanamo prison in Cuba. Like the other prisoners, he was included in a ‘Schedule 4’ according to which prisoners had to inform concerned security agencies about their movements.
This is not the story of one individual.
There are several Pakistani citizens suspected of terror links, and almost 40 citizens are still suffering in Bagram. They had been picked up by security agencies and handed over to the US for interrogation.
Therefore, to showcase the plight of these prisoners, their pictures were displayed in a photograph exhibition launched at the National Art Gallery titled ‘Closing Bagram, The Other Guantanamo’.
The display included dozens of large black-and-white images of the 40 prisoners’ family members, and was organised by the Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) and photographer Asim Rafiqui.
The JPP is a charity organisation privately run by its director Sarah Belal and funded by international human rights organisations. It provides legal representation to vulnerable prisoners such as the mentally ill and detainees of war on terror facing harsh punishments in Pakistan.
The organisers invited family members of the 40 prisoners and also announced the launch of their website which contained information regarding the Pakistani prisoners in American detention cells.
Qari Saad Madni, while narrating his experience, said he was picked up by local authorities and handed over to Americans for interrogation.“I was thrown against a wall when Jamal Mubarak, the son of Hosni Mubarak, was interrogating me, and my left eardrum was damaged which remained untreated throughout my imprisonment.
“After I was brought back to Pakistan, doctors in Pims (Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences) told the government I would die if they did not perform a life saving surgery,” recalled Qari Saad Madni.
He told visitors that several inmates in Guantanamo were in an extremely poor condition and recalled that prisoners were chained and hung from ceilings for several days. “Some died while hanging and are probably unaccounted for today,” he said.
Family members of the 40 Pakistanis in Bagram seconded Qari Saad’s stories of tortures and said their loved ones were subjected to similar tortures.
Ghulam Fatima said she was 14 months into her marriage when her husband Iftikhar Ahmad was picked up by Pakistani security agencies in Chaman, Quetta in 2010.
They tied his hands and chained him when I saw him over our last Skype session conducted once every two months by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
“They beat him and drilled holes in his body to glean information knowing he was mentally unstable,” Fatima Bibi told the audience. She said the Pakistan government had informed her that the Americans had wrongly accused her husband of building improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
According to Director JPP Sarah Belal, Iftikhar Ahmad had a history of wandering off and was often found in far off cities given his mental health. He had probably wandered off again and been picked up by the security agencies.
Sarah Belal had been pushing for Iftikhar Ahmad’s release for the past three years, and said the Americans had requested the Pakistani government to collect innocent individuals.
“But the Pakistan government has not been pushed to do so and the issue does not seem to be its priority,” said Sarah Belal, adding that the Americans required security and humanitarian assurances which the Pakistan government was not willing to provide.
Abdul Razaq, the brother of another prisoner Amanat Ullah, said the Americans had wrongly accused Amanat Ullah of affiliation with the Lashkar-e-Tayaba.
“This is not true because Amanat Ullah belongs to the Shia sect,” Abdul Razaq said.
The most recent case of disappearance is that of Mohammad Sadiq from Karachi. According to his father Abdul Rahim, he was picked up by security agencies on March 7, 2013.
“Two others were also picked up with my son and have now been released. The whereabouts of my son are still not known. I wrote to the Chief Justice who then ordered security agencies to present my son before court in June. However, there is still no news of him,” said Abdul Rahim.