PESHAWAR: A tribal physician who helped the CIA track down Osama bin Laden was convicted on charges of colluding with the banned Lashkar-i-Islam (LI) and its chief, Mangal Bagh, court documents reveal.
The four-member tribal court did not entertain evidence relating to Dr Shakil Afridi’s involvement with the CIA, citing lack of jurisdiction as the main reason and recommended that he be produced before the relevant court for further proceedings under the law, leaving the option open for his trial under treason law.
However, he was sentenced to 33 years in prison and fined Rs320,000 under various clauses of the British-era Frontier Crimes Regulation.
His long conviction prompted a strong reaction from human rights activists and his brother Jamil Afridi and a panel of lawyers said they intended to appeal and challenge the conviction in a court of law.
In a militancy infested tribal region it’s rare to see a member of an outlawed group or terrorist organisation being tried or convicted. However, Dr Afridi was sentenced to such a harsh jail term not for involvement in any act of terrorism but on the charge of having links with Mangal Bagh.
Until now officials have been vaguely saying that Afridi was convicted on charges of involvement in anti-state activities that was taken to believe that he had been sentenced for helping the CIA in its Abbottabad raid.
The five-page court document, available with Dawn, reveals that Mr Afridi was arrested for his “involvement in anti-state activities” on May 23, 2011, following reports that he was in league with Lashkar-i-Islam.
Lashkar-i-Islam -- a Bara-based militant organisation in Khyber tribal region led by Mangal Bagh -- was banned in June, 2008.
“Though the JIT (joint investigation team) contains evidence of the involvement of accused in activities wherein he has been shown acting with other foreign intelligence agencies, all this evidence could not be taken into account for the lack of jurisdiction,” the court said in its short order.
It recommended that Dr Afridi be produced before the relevant court for further proceedings under the law, thus leaving the option open for the government to try him under the treason law that entails death penalty.
A judicial commission headed by Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal has already recommended Dr Afridi’s trial under the treason law, though no formal charge has so far been brought against him for helping the CIA in a fake vaccination campaign to nail down Bin Laden to his abode in the scenic northern city of Abbottabad.
The court order reveals that various intelligence agencies and people in general had complained against activities of the accused. It said Dr Afridi had been handed over to a joint interrogation team on May 24, 2011 for five days. On May 29, 2011, it said, the accused had been handed over to an intelligence agency under proper receipt for further probe.
The accused was produced before the tribal court on May 11, 2012, on the directives of the Ministry of Interior. Charges were framed against him and the case was referred to a council of elders for inquiry on May 12, 2012.
The order said intelligence reports had indicated that the accused had close links with the defunct LI and “his love for Mangal Bagh, Amir of Lashkar-i-Islam, and his association with him was an open secret”.
Referring to the report submitted by the JIT, it said the accused had paid Rs2 million to LI when he was serving at the Tehsil Headquarters Hospital Dogra, Bara, Khyber tribal region.
The court also accused Mr Afridi of providing medical assistance to militant commanders like Said Noor Malikdinkhel, Hazrat Sepah, Wahid Shaloberkhel and others at the hospital which he headed.
It also referred to statements by some people that militant commanders used to visit the hospital and hold private meetings with the accused. “These meetings were usually of longer duration and most often those meetings were followed by attacks by militants on security forces’ checkposts and other places at night,” the order read.
It said LI’s design to wage war against the state of Pakistan was a reality known to all and that those attacks were planned in the office of the accused. Being a public servant, the involvement of the accused in subversive activities and his role in facilitating the waging of war and attacks on security forces made him liable to be proceeded against, it added.
The court held that the LI had sought the support of foreign intelligence agencies across the border in Afghanistan to wage war against the state of Pakistan and that Mr Afridi’s association with the militant outfit proved his involvement in activities inimical to the state of Pakistan.
It further convicted Mr Afridi of preaching the ideology of Lashkar-i-Islam, based on hatred arousing contempt against the people and the government of Pakistan.
“His demeanour as a public servant proves his disloyalty and feeling of enmity towards the state and government of Pakistan,” the court order said.
The court thus tried and convicted Dr Shakil Afridi under four different clauses of the 1901 Frontier Crimes Regulation. The sentences, the court document said, would run simultaneously, also granting him the benefit to commence his sentence with retrospective effect from May 23, 2011.
The FCR amended in 2011 gives him the right to appeal his conviction in an appellate tribunal.
Jamil Afridi told a news conference that his brother was innocent and being made a scapegoat.
A panel of lawyers has already sent the power of attorney to the Peshawar Central Prison for Afridi’s signature to fight his case. So far he has been denied any visitation on security ground.