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A young girl passes out papers about Aafia Siddiqui, an MIT alumna currently serving an 86-year sentence in Forth Worth, Texas, during a rally Siddiqui’s release held Tuesday on the steps outside of 77 Mass Ave.

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Protesters seek release of Aafia Siddiqui

A small crowd of protesters gathered at the bottom of the steps of Lobby 7 Tuesday afternoon. They called on the U.S. government to release and repatriate Aafia Siddiqui ’95, a Pakistani neuroscientist who is currently serving an 86-year sentence in a prison in Fort Worth, Texas.

Siddiqui is a graduate of MIT, class of 1995, and received her PhD in neuroscience at Brandeis University. She had been wanted for questioning by the FBI in relation to ties to Al-Qaeda and terrorist bomb plots, and in 2010 was convicted of assault against American army personnel after she was questioned in Afghanistan. Siddiqui, her family, Pakistani news media, and many activists in both the U.S. and the Middle East have denied the charges against her and have accused American authorities of subjecting her to torture.

A diverse group of people, young and old, Muslim and non-Muslim, joined in the protest. Signs proclaiming their demands waved in the air and hung down their backs as they listened to a succession of speeches about Siddiqui and broader concerns with U.S. government actions. Chants of “Free Dr. Aafia! Send her home now!” and “USA, CIA, Free Dr. Siddiqui!” punctuated the speeches.

One speaker was Abdullah Faaruuq, the imam at the Mosque for the Praising of Allah in Roxbury, MA. According the organizer who introduced him, Faaruuq knew Aafia when she was a student at MIT and that he “had a pretty close relationship with Aafia and her family.”

Speaking on more general issues was PF Soto, an activist based in Cambridge. In her speech, she condemned “so-called activist groups” who “are infiltrated, tamp down on people’s outrage … [and] condescend to the average person who [she] believe[s] can handle the truth.” These groups, Soto said, should be educating the people, and, like her, “holding documentary film screenings on everything” that MSM, or mass mainstream media, “doesn’t want us to know about.”

Perhaps referring to Siddiqui’s case, Soto called the American election system “complicit [with] a rotten system that is leveling the earth and torturing and killing a massive portion of the human beings that we share the planet with.” She hopes that “things will change with awareness.”

A little off to the side, a group of smiling children posed for a picture. In their hands were hand-made, heart-shaped posters proclaiming in Sharpie, “I love Aafia.”

—Vivian Zhong