LANDI KOTAL: A local doctor accused of helping the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) acquire DNA samples of members of Osama bin Laden’s family was sentenced on Wednesday to 33 years in prison for treason.
Officials said Dr Shakil Afridi who worked as a government surgeon was also fined Rs320,000 and in case of default he would have to undergo an additional three years imprisonment.
They said Dr Afridi had been tried at the office of assistant political agent (APA) in Bara. He was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment each under section 121 A (conspiracy to wage war against Pakistan or depriving it of its sovereignty), section 123 (concealing existence of a plan to wage war against Pakistan) and 123 A (Condemnation of the creation of the state and advocacy of abolition of its sovereignty) of the Pakistan Penal Code. He was sentenced to an additional three years in jail under section 124 (assaulting president, governor, etc, with intention to compel or restrain the exercise of any lawful power).
The officials said Dr Afridi had been in custody of the Khyber Agency political administration since his arrest, but declined to say where he had been kept and interrogated. Before that the administration never said that the doctor had been in its custody.
“The trial conducted under the Frontier Crimes Regulation continued for one year during which Dr Afridi was denied the right to engage a lawyer,” said Rahat Gul, an administrative official at the Khyber House.
The case was referred to a council of elders constituted under the FCR and headed by the assistant political agent of Bara. In the light of the findings of the council, the APA convicted the agency’s former surgeon.
He was sent to the Peshawar central prison after the conviction.
A judicial commission investigating the circumstances leading to the killing of Bin Laden in a US raid in Abbottabad on May 2 last year had recommended in October that Dr Afridi should be charged with high treason.
Dr Afridi was picked up by an intelligence agency in May last year from a checkpoint in Karakhno market when he was returning to Peshawar from Jamrud. Soon after his disappearance, members of his family living in Hayatabad went into hiding.
AFP adds: In January, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta confirmed that Dr Afridi had worked for the CIA by collecting DNA to verify Bin Laden’s presence and expressed concern about Pakistan’s treatment of him.
“He was not in any way treasonous towards Pakistan,” Panetta told CBS television.
“For them to take this kind of action against somebody who was helping to go after terrorism, I just think is a real mistake on their part.”
Mr Panetta said he believed someone in authority in Pakistan knew where Bin Laden was hiding and as a result Islamabad had not been warned about the raid.
Pakistan reacted furiously to what it called a violation of its sovereignty. It insisted it knew nothing about Bin Laden’s whereabouts and the operation severely damaged relations with the United States.
Critics said on Wednesday that Dr Afridi should not have been tried under tribal law in the tribal belt for an alleged crime that took place outside their jurisdiction.
British newspaper The Guardian reported in July last year that Dr Afridi had set up a fake vaccination programme in the hope of obtaining DNA samples from the house where the CIA suspected Bin Laden was living.
The Guardian said the doctor had been recruited by the CIA for an elaborate scheme to vaccinate residents for hepatitis-B, a ploy to get a DNA sample from those living in the house to see if they were Bin Laden’s family members.