Almost immediately after running the 2019 Boston Marathon, I wrote to the Boston Globe expressing my concerns about political prisoner Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. I received the Globe's automated reply, stating the requirements—word limit, copyright (the letter could not have been published elsewhere), and writer identification—which had to be met for a letter to be considered for publication, along with the proclamation that a letter which didn’t appear in print within ten days had likely not been selected for publication. It didn't. I was disappointed that the Globe would not publish it, if only for the novelty of a crazy Pakistani woman running yet another 26.2 miles in the name of a political prisoner. I felt I had adhered to all of the publication criteria. But—I was not at all surprised, considering the paper's previous heavily slanted reporting on Aafia's case. My (unpublished) letter to the Globe read as follows:
April 16, 2019
Letters to the Editor
The Boston Globe
1 Exchange Place, Suite 201
Boston, MA 02109-2132
In the field of 26,632 people running the Boston Marathon on Monday, I was one of very few (perhaps the only) Pakistani women to take on the daunting course. A time-qualified entrant, my current and penultimate marathon PRs are 3:41 (NCR Trail Marathon) and 3:42 (Baltimore Marathon), both set within the last five years. At age 50, I am pleased to say Boston 2019 was my 42nd marathon (my second time running it).
I ran Boston to call attention to the plight of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani Muslim woman neuroscientist, degreed by the prestigious M.I.T. Aafia once lived and studied in the beautiful city of Boston.
Today she is imprisoned in Texas, having first been kidnapped by authorities in Pakistan. This occurred during the period when “secret renditions” were common in Pakistan, then her place of residence. Aafia was tortured and likely raped in prison in Pakistan and Afghanistan. After that, she was brought to New York, and put on trial.
Previously very healthy and vibrant, the petite neuroscientist was wheeled into court in a wheelchair by her jailors. The court disallowed nearly all exculpatory evidence which could have helped her, but allowed highly conflicting and emotional (anti-Muslim) evidence to be presented. Soon, Aafia was convicted and sent to FMC Carswell.
The unspeakable injustice being done to this woman is the reason I braved the pouring rain, and then the midday heat to run my second Boston Marathon. It was one of the most challenging of the 42 marathons I’ve run, and my finish time did not remotely approach either my PR, or my qualifying time. The only saving grace was that I did not resort to walking, not even on Heart Break Hill.
My reason for running made it all worthwhile. Aafia, or Behan Aafia (our sister Aafia), as we Pakistanis call her. In Pakistan, there is near universal sentiment that she is innocent and ought to be released.
My tee bore the words “Free Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, along with a picture of her cherubic face in hijab. It drew occasional questions from fellow marathoners, and I was happy to share her story as we tackled hill after hill.
In a period when women’s rights have finally and appropriately gained center stage, why is the violation of rights of this innocent Pakistani woman allowed to continue? She has already endured 16 years of unjust imprisonment. I urge women’s rights organizations and movements, politicians, humanitarians, and media to look into her case, and to call for her immediate release.