Safdar Sarki, a Pakistani-American doctor, has been held in Pakistan for nearly two years.
Safdar Sarki, a Pakistani-American doctor, has been held in Pakistan for nearly two years. Family Photo
A Pakistani-American doctor campaigning for the rights of a minority group has been held in Pakistan for nearly two years. U.S. officials say they have been pushing for consular access to Safdar Sarki, but they have been rebuffed or ignored.
In late February 2006, Sarki was wrapping up a visit to Pakistan. Sarki lived in Texas with his wife and three children but regularly made visits to Pakistan to campaign for the rights of a minority group in the populous Sindh province.
According to John Sifton, a lawyer working on Sarki's case, government forces, thought to be members of Pakistan's intelligence service, came into Sarki's apartment a few days before he was set to leave, questioned and beat him, then took him away.
It was over a year and a half before Sarki reappeared.
In October, Pakistan's supreme court ruled that Sarki was a victim of what it called an "enforced disappearance," and demanded that he be presented in court.
Shortly after, police in the remote province of Baluchistan said they had just arrested Sarki on weapons charges, but gave no details. Since then, Sarki's case has bounced from one court, and from one judge, to another. He's in solitary confinement in a primitive jail in the town of Zhob, in the tribal region of Baluchistan province.
His Pakistani lawyer, Mohammed Khan Sheik, says Sarki's health is deteriorating — he has a dual hernia and a degenerative eye condition. A visiting doctor determined that Sarki could go blind if he's not treated in a proper hospital, the lawyer says.
A provincial court ordered that Sarki be transferred to a hospital for treatment, but the order was ignored. So, too, were requests for visits in prison from his family, friends, or lawyers.
Sarki's case is similar to thousands of other Pakistanis. According to Pakistani human right officials, about 4,000 people have disappeared since late 2001, when President Pervez Musharraf entered into an alliance with the United States in the war on terrorism. About 500 of the disappeared are suspected to have links to terrorism, but the bulk of the others have nothing to do with terrorism, says Iqbal Haider, the secretary-general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
"This is just to victimize them because they demand provincial autonomy, the right to rule their own government," Haider says. "Their agenda is absolutely political, nothing to do with those fanatic religious militants."
The difference with Sarki is that he's a naturalized American citizen. U.S. officials in Pakistan and Washington say they have been pushing incessantly in all the key Pakistani ministries for consular access or medical treatment for Sarki, but they have been rebuffed or ignored every step of the way.
Like many others, Sarki's Pakistani lawyer doesn't believe the United States is doing enough, given American influence with Pakistan's government, and that Sarki's case has been ignored. That's a charge U.S. officials dispute.
Last week, a court in Zhob granted Sarki bail. An hour later, that was overruled by a higher court. Sarki remains in solitary confinement.