With several hundred more Pakistanis waiting to be deported by the United States on visa violations, many human rights organizations and volunteers here are actively involved in providing legal, moral and financial support to the victims and their families. Here is the story of one such victimâ€¦
Last year, on October 17, Qaiser Rafiq, a Pakistani and former Wall Street computer specialist left his sister’s home at 10.30 a.m. when he was rudely stopped by the police: “Where are your terrorist friends?” he was asked. “I don’t know any terrorists,” said a terrified Rafiq. “Shut up, shut up. All you Muslims are terrorists,” shouted the cops, accusing him of carrying a bomb in his car and that if he blinked he would be shot.
“I had just returned from Pakistan after burying my older sister and my brother was visiting me”, a tearful Shamaila recounts. She and her husband along with their 5-year-old son are being forced to leave their Connecticut home and move in with a Pakistani family this weekend, “because we are under a 24-hour police surveillance. Our phones are tapped and our white neighbors across the street – who first reported us – still continue to spy. They have a hot line with the FBI.”
Nine months have elapsed since Rafiq, 39, was incarcerated and shunted around from prison to prison: “I have gone through abuse which is beyond imagination. I have been threatened, harassed, humiliated and verbally abused during my strip searchesâ€¦I have been made to stand completely naked for several minutes in front of inmates who have laughed and cursed me and called me a terroristâ€¦ when I threatened to make public my treatment to the media, Pakistani embassy and HR organizationsâ€¦I was slapped, punched, shackled handcuffed and dragged â€¦my clothes were covered in bloodâ€¦I was told to change into a red jumpsuit while my jailers held on to my bloodstained uniformâ€¦I was given no medical aid.
“I am not convicted of any crimeâ€¦I fear for my life every minute of the dayâ€¦my jailers have turned the JUSTICE system to JUST US,” Rafiq wrote recently in his appeal for help to John Armstrong, Commissioner Dept. of Correction and to Connecticut governor John Rowland. He also sent out copies to Amnesty International.
The New York police nabbed Rafiq last October on suspicions of having terrorist links. A New York filming permit taken out on Sept. 10 to begin filming the World Trade Center on September 11 was found by the police in his car. This made him a suspect in the eyes of the law. “Mr Qaiser Rafiq works as an independent contractor for our firm, Interactive Media,” vouched its producer Razaq Baloch, who said that he used to hire Rafiq’s services for covering local news for Pakistan TV.
“Qaiser’s business partner complained about him some five years ago when they set up a gas station in Long Island. The business failed and my brother was accused by his partner of financial wrongdoing which the FBI – having failed to link him with terrorism – is now using against him as Larceny and keeping him behind bars”, says Shamaila..
” I was accused of financing Pakistani organizations working in Kashmir; acting as a Pakistani spy and knowing something about the World Trade Center (WTC) attack because I had earlier quit my job at Wall Street (next to WTC); meeting on Sept 8 with 3 middle-eastern descent men in Jersey City and providing them finance and transportation,” a beleaguered Rafiq wrote to Pakistani President General Musharraf last Feb appealing for help: “this is my last appeal, because I have every reason to believe that I will be killed before the second oneâ€¦
” I know you must be wondering how I am typing this letter in prison, you are right. I am not, I am just speaking and on the other side of the phone my sister is crying and typing this letter. I hope that you will not forget me and other Pakistanis while discussing about Mr Pearl during your visit to the White House.” (Pearl’s death had not become known then)
In the same letter Rafiq said, “I cannot understand why the American government agencies, media, attorneys, why everyone is so determined to label a Pakistani citizen as a terrorist and my jailers are trying to kill me for what happened to Mr Pearl while every agency in Pakistan is spending days and nights in search of the American citizen Daniel Pearl?”
“The whole world,” he wrote is “concerned about Mr Pearl’s family, but why no one can see the tears of my family; my mother who is crying and worrying about her only son whom she has not seen in 5 years. I don’t understand why the Pakistani government cannot ask for the same cooperation from the US when it comes to Pakistani citizens who are tortured and treated differently.”
More than the Pakistan embassy here, human rights organizations have staunchly protested against Rafiq’s unfair detention and provided him legal aid. But they have faced an uphill task, because the odds against this unfortunate man have been heavily loaded from the start. First his very own attorney (who is meant to be on his side) David Zipfell, according to Rafiq, “was working for the prosecutor on my payroll, helping him (prosecutor) to keep me on ice!” Zipfell willfully kept the media, human rights groups and other Muslim volunteers from meeting his client. Eventually Rafiq fired him. But his troubles were far from over. A vicious story accusing him of being a terrorist appeared front page in Hartford Courant, a leading US newspaper.
All hell broke lose for Rafiq in his cell: “Guards distributed copies of the article among inmates and encouraged them to take ‘care of me’â€¦many times after that, the inmates tried to choke and kill meâ€¦during the beatings my lips were cut, and my head, eyes, legs and arms received bloody blowsâ€¦ they wanted to make sure that I don’t walk out of this jail alive.”
Shamaila approached some 20 attorneys, all declining to represent him. Finally Brian Wolfe agreed but demanded $25,000 up front in cash. “His account has been seized, I borrowed money to pay David Zipfell (previous attorney) . Many of his friends were investigated – after obtaining their names from his phone diary – and are now too scared to help us,” says the sister, left alone to demand justice for her brother.
“Now the Pakistan Embassy along with others is trying to get us a new lawyer,” she says. Amnesty International has also reached out to her and have cited Qaiser Rafiq’s case in their March 2002 report of rights abuses
Nobody in their right mind can forgive the terrorist attacks by Mohd Atta and his associates on Sept 11. Their devilish deeds have tainted the Muslim world and adversely affected the lives of many innocent Pakistanis living in the US forever. Including Qaiser Rafiq’s. Jumping in immediately to lend his support, he mobilized his community to donate blood, collect funds, distribute free food and participate in candlelight vigils and fund-raising dinners. He even paid $8000 from his pocket to organize ‘World Trade Center Fund Raising Show’ but could not be around to watch it happen because instead the FBI turned the tables on him and hauled him up as a terrorist!
Truth, they say is stranger than fiction.