Five young American men detained in Pakistan for alleged links to Islamist extremist groups swore their innocence Tuesday, saying they were being ‘set up’ and tortured in jail.
As they arrived in a police van at the high-security court in the eastern city of Sargodha, one of the suspects tossed a scrap of toilet paper scrawled with writing from the window of the vehicle, an AFP reporter said.
“Since our arrest the USA, FBI and Pakistani police have tortured us. They are trying to set us up. We are innocent. They are trying to keep us from the public, media, our families and our lawyers. Help us,” it read.
The piece of paper was signed by “Waqar, Ahmed, Ramy, Umar, Aman” — the names of the five US citizens. Shouts of “We have been tortured” were also heard from the van.
The men, aged between 18 and 25 and including two Pakistani-Americans, were arrested in Sargodha in December but have yet to be charged. They are accused of trying to contact Al-Qaeda-linked groups and to plot attacks against Pakistan and its allies.
Pakistani officials say the men planned to travel to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban against US troops. The men have denied links to Al-Qaeda and said they wanted to go to Afghanistan for charity work.
They face life imprisonment if put on trial and found guilty. A Pakistani court has barred their deportation to the United States.
Aamir Abbas, a local police official, said that the court extended the judicial remand of the five men until February 15, when they will again appear in court. The media has been barred from attending the proceedings.
Defence lawyer Tariq Asad told reporters that the court agreed to fresh medical examinations for the suspects and would consider a request to allow to them to have private meetings with their legal counsel.
Pakistan is under US pressure to do more to eliminate Islamist networks that have carved out training grounds and havens in the country’s northwest to plot attacks against Western troops fighting in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Khalid Khawaja, of the Defence of Human Rights Pakistan group, which is assisting the five men, said the accused told the judge they had been subjected to electric shocks and threats in jail.
“Basic human rights are being violated in this case and the guys are being tortured inside the jail,” Khawaja said.
“They are not being provided with the basic facilities inside the jail. There is no newspaper for them, there are no books for them.”
The suspects made similar claims of mistreatment at their previous hearing, on January 18. On Tuesday, Sargodha jail superintendent Anjum Shah denied the claims and said the suspects had not complained to prison authorities.
“There is no torture on the accused in the jail, we are treating them according to the rules,” he told AFP.
Rick Snelsire, spokesman for the US embassy, also rejected the allegations of torture against the United States and the Federal Bureau of Investigation as “baseless,” and said they the men had received consular services.
“They were interviewed by the FBI shortly after they were arrested… We have a consular officer who has visited them on three occasions and I believe she is attending the hearing. So we are closely following the case,” he said.