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Re-trial of Dr Afridi ordered

August 30, 2013

PESHAWAR, Aug 29: Setting aside the conviction and sentence of 33 years awarded by an assistant political agent last year to Dr Shakil Afridi, suspected of helping American CIA in tracking down Osama bin Laden, the appellate court of the Frontier Crimes Regulation’s commissioner remanded his case on Thursday to the Khyber tribal agency’s political agent for re-trial on charges of having links with a banned outfit.

The commissioner, Sahibzada Anees, who is the appellate forum under the FCR, ordered that Dr Afridi should remain behind bars and not be set free on bail till conclusion of his re-trial.

Advocate Samiullah Afridi, the main counsel for Dr Afridi, told a large number of reporters gathered at the Commissioner’s House that the court had accepted their plea that the APA of Bara tehsil, who had convicted him on May 23 last year on charges of being involved in anti-state activities by supporting the Lashkar-i-Islam, had tried him as an additional district magistrate whereas the sections of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) under which he had been convicted meant he could only be tried by a district and sessions judge. In the present case, this meant the political agent of the agency should have tried Dr Afridi.

The state prosecutor, Iqbal Durrani, said the conviction had been set aside on technical grounds and the commissioner had ordered that the suspect should be tried by the political agent.

In the tribal areas the administrative officers also serve as judicial officers and have been delegated powers of sessions judge and magistrate.

Dr Afridi, a former agency surgeon, was picked up allegedly by personnel of an intelligence agency in May 2011 on suspicion of helping the CIA trace Osama bin Laden by carrying out a fake vaccination campaign in Abbottabad. However, he was not convicted on that charge.

An appeal against his conviction was filed on his behalf by his brother Jamil Afridi.

A panel of lawyers comprising Abdul Lateef Afridi, Samiullah Afridi, Qamar Nadeem and Ijaz Mohmand represented Dr Afridi and contended that he had not been provided a fair trial guaranteed under the constitution.

They said the APA had mentioned in his order that their client had been arrested on May 23, 2011, by the political administration and handed over to an intelligence agency on May 29.

The appellant remained in illegal detention of the agency for almost a year and was finally handed over back to the administration on May 11 last year, they said.

They denied that the appellant has any link with the LI and argued that Bara had been under curfew since 2008.

The lawyers questioned how it was possible for members of the LI to gather in the hospital with the appellant during curfew.

Mr Durrani contended that a council of elders properly constituted under the FCR had held that the accused was involved in the offences. During investigation it had been revealed that the doctor had remained an active supporter of the banned group and was also involved in funding it, he said.

The appellant was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment each under sections 121A (conspiracy to wage war against country or depriving Pakistan of its sovereignty), 123 (concealing existence of a plan to wage war against Pakistan) and 123A (condemnation of the creation of the state and advocacy of abolition of its sovereignty) of the PPC and for an additional three years under Section 124 (assaulting president, governor, etc., with intention to compel or restrain the exercise of any lawful power). The APA said Dr Afridi had to spend 33 years in prison.

As a day earlier the federal cabinet had given approval for signing the Council of Europe Convention on Transfer of Sentenced Persons, rumours spread among the media circles that Dr Afridi would be swapped with Dr Aafia Siddiqui, who is imprisoned in the US. However, a counsel for Dr Afridi said since he was not a US national, the government of that country could not ask Pakistan to transfer him there.