Pakistanis Protest Scientist's Sentencing In U.S.

Pakistanis on Friday protested the 86-year sentence handed down to Aafia Siddiqui in a U.S. courtroom a day earlier. Siddiqui, a 38-year-old Pakistani neuroscientist, was convicted in May of shooting at U.S. soldiers and officials in Afghanistan after they arrested her on suspicion of terrorism in 2008. The Americans were not hit by gunfire, and many Pakistanis believe Siddiqui is innocent. Islamabad has appealed for her repatriation, and demonstrators took the streets to denounce both the U.S. and the Pakistani governments.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Robert Siegel.

DAVID GREENE, host:

And Im David Greene.

To Pakistan now, where protestors clashed with police today in several cities. The demonstrators want the release of a U.S.-trained Pakistani scientist, Aafia Siddiqui. Yesterday, in New York, she was sentenced to 86 years in prison for trying to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

As NPR News's Anthony Kuhn reports from Lahore, Siddiqui's detention has caused friction between Pakistan's Islamists and their government.

ANTHONY KUHN: On the streets of Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and other cities, Islamist political parties led the faithful out of Friday prayers. Hundreds of them marched towards U.S. embassies and consulates, threw rocks at police and burned U.S. flags. In Islamabad, opposition politicians slammed the government for failing to secure Aafia Siddiqui's release.

On local TV, Talha Mahmood, a senator with the Islamist United Counsel of Action, berated Islamabad's ambassador in Washington.

Senator TALHA MAHMOOD (Member, United Counsel of Action): (Through Translator) Hussain Haqqani is serving in the U.S. as Pakistani ambassador. But in reality, he's not a Pakistani ambassador. He's protecting American interests and not those of Pakistani.

KUHN: According to prosecutors at her trial in New York, after Aafia Siddiqui was captured in Afghanistan, she grabbed a rifle and fired at U.S. soldiers and FBI officers, shouting, death to America.

Speaking from the family hometown of Karachi, Siddiqui's sister, Fozia, called the verdict a travesty of justice and rejected reports linking her sister to al-Qaida.

Dr. FOZIA SIDDIQUI: Why did the prosecution stand up and say there are no charges of terrorism, al-Qaida or Taliban? This is all a media trial. This is all the Western media speaking. Let me tell the Western media that they are liars and their lies will come out in front of the whole world.

KUHN: Pakistan's leaders pledged to continue efforts to bring Siddiqui home. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani called Siddiqui the Daughter of the Nation, and parliament passed a resolution calling for her release.

But critics on the left and right feel that, rhetoric aside, it's business as usual between Islamabad and Washington.

Farooq Tariq is a spokesman for the left wing Labor Party of Pakistan.

Mr. FAROOQ TARIQ (Spokesman, Labor Party of Pakistan): I dont think that this government will go any further than just making political statements for the public to cool down their emotions and their thoughts.

KUHN: Tariq says Islamabad will not end its partnership with Washington in fighting terrorism or upset a major donor of aid to Pakistan's flood victims. He adds that the verdict will mostly serve to reinforce perceptions in Pakistan that U.S. courts won't give a Muslim a fair trial, and in the U.S., that Pakistan is an Islamic fundamentalist state.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Lahore.

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