ISLAMABAD: The United States should respect a Pakistan court’s decision to imprison a doctor accused of helping the CIA find Osama bin Laden, the Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman said on Thursday.
“I think as far as the case of Mr. Afridi is concerned, it was in accordance with Pakistani laws and by the Pakistani courts, and we need to respect each other’s legal processes,” Moazzam Ali Khan told reporters.
Dr Shakil Afridi was sentenced on Wednesday to 33 years in prison for treason charges.
Officials said Afridi had been tried at the office of assistant political agent (APA) in Bara. He was sentenced on the charges of conspiring “to wage war against Pakistan or depriving it of its sovereignty”, “concealing existence of a plan to wage war against Pakistan” and “condemnation of the creation of the state and advocacy of abolition of its sovereignty”.
“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 conviction is seen by many as a sign of worsening US-Pakistan ties as both sides struggle to resolve a deadlock on reopening supply-lines to Nato forces in Afghanistan – blocked by the Pakistani government after a US raid on a check-post in Salala killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Critics have said he should not have been tried under tribal law for an alleged crime that took place outside tribal jurisdiction, in the town of Abbottabad where he ran a fake vaccination programme designed to collect bin Laden family DNA.
A senior official in Khyber, Nasir Khan, defended Afridi’s trial.
“We have powers to try a resident of FATA (the federally administered tribal areas) under the FCR enforced in tribal areas,” he told AFP.
“The trial was kept secret so that no one can attack him. We did not reveal even the name of the jirga members to avoid any risk,” he said.
There have been conflicting accounts about whether Afridi was present during the proceedings.
Nasir Khan said he had appeared on Wednesday when the verdict was announced in Peshawar.
Khan said Afridi’s trial lasted two months and that he was given full opportunity to defend himself, but was not entitled to a lawyer.
He has the right to appeal either to a tribunal or directly to the Peshawar high court, which has in several cases either remitted or annulled tribal sentences, he added.
Afridi's conviction also came under sharp criticism from quarters in the US.
“It is shocking and outrageous that Dr Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who assisted the United States in the search for Osama bin Laden, has been sentenced to 33 years in prison for the crime of treason,” observed Senators McCain and Levin — one a senior Republican and the other a senior Democrat.
Meanwhile, a jail official told AFP on Thursday that the Pakistani doctor was in poor health.
“His health condition is bad, a team of doctors will examine him in jail today,” said Samad Khan from the central prison in Peshawar, where officials have said Shakil Afridi is being held.
“He has been kept away from other prisoners to avert any danger to his life,” Khan said, without elaborating further on Afridi’s condition.
Afridi comes from Khyber, one of the seven districts that make up the tribal belt. Members of his family living in Hayatabad went into hiding soon after he was picked up by an intelligence agency in May last year.